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How Electronic Health Records Can Cause Physician Burnout

Leon Walsh

In a previous blog post, our medical malpractice attorneys at Grewal Law PLLC discussed how electronic health records (EHRs) may contribute to patient injuries and medical malpractice claims. Now, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has identified another serious consequence of using EHRs in the healthcare setting: Physician burnout.

According to a new report issued by the HHS, titled “Strategy on Reducing Regulatory and Administrative Burden Relating to the Use of Health IT and EHRs,” EHRs may have a much larger detrimental impact on our health care system than previously imagined. In fact, 71% of physicians report that EHRs contribute to burnout, according to another study performed at Stanford.  

Defining the Problem of Physician Burnout

The American Journal of Medicine defines physician burnout as having 3 key characteristics:

  • lacking a sense of accomplishment
  • cynicism
  • lack of enthusiasm for work

Because of the nature of their work, when physicians suffer symptoms of burnout, the odds of patients experiencing a negative safety event more than double. In the healthcare setting, depersonalization is often considered to be the biggest leading factor in burnout. Depersonalization occurs when doctors begin to see patients as objects, not as people – and this is where EHRs may now play a pivotal role.

Putting Profits Before Patients: Why EHRs Cause Burnout

The desire to avoid medical errors and improve the medical system was a major driving force behind the adoption and implementation of EHRs across the country. However, it appears that hospitals have exploited these systems to maximize revenue and increase financial opportunities.

Not surprisingly, physicians now report spending more time working on EHRs than interacting with patients. In the Stanford study cited earlier, researchers found that primary care physicians are spending an average of 31 minutes on patient encounters, with only 12 minutes spent interacting directly with patients and 19 minutes spent on the EHRs. 

Another factor contributing to physician burnout is the length of time it takes to complete certain tasks. Before EHR systems, physicians could handwrite patient prescriptions in 15 seconds. Now, physicians spend at least 2 minutes going through a series of clicks. The frequent mouse clicks has even led to a new diagnosis: carpal click syndrome. One study of emergency department physicians found that physicians average 4,000 clicks during a ten-hour shift.

Holding Healthcare Providers Accountable for Injuries

While it is encouraging that the government now recognizes the burdens associated with EHRs, it is unlikely the recent HHS recommendations will reduce physician burnout and improve patient care as originally intended. As long as hospitals use EHRs in ways to further its own interests rather than using them to improve patient care, medical errors will continue to be the third leading cause of death in the United States.

At Grewal Law PLLC, we believe in holding hospitals and other healthcare providers accountable when they fail to consider the safety of patients. When you need to speak with a qualified attorney about a medical malpractice claim, we can help answer your questions and advocate for your needs.

Do you believe that physician burnout or EHR error may have contributed to your injuries? Call our legal team at (888) 211-5798 today for a free consultation.

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