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Addressing EHR Burnout Among Primary Care Physicians: The Rising Need for System-Level Changes

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Anthony Raphael
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Addressing EHR Burnout Among Primary Care Physicians: The Rising Need for System-Level Changes

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The Increasing Burden of EHR on Primary Care Physicians

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Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) are grappling with an escalating burden of Electronic Health Record (EHR) tasks. A recent study indicates that PCPs are spending over 8% additional time on EHR tasks on scheduled appointment days, with the figure rising to 20% on days without appointments during the pandemic. This has led to an unsustainable amount of time being devoted to EHR-based work, which is adversely affecting patient care and putting a strain on the physician workforce.

The Impact of EHR on Physicians' Personal Lives

The study also highlighted the negative effect on physicians' personal lives, including their exercise routines, sleep patterns, and relationships. It's evident that the continuous and demanding nature of addressing MyChart messages is contributing significantly to this stress. While there was a slight decrease in inbox time in the final year of the study, the research underscores the need for innovative strategies to alleviate the EHR workload.

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Addressing The EHR Burnout Issue

The American Medical Association (AMA) is actively working to reduce burnout and increase transparency in the healthcare system. They are advocating for system-level changes to distribute work among the team and reduce unnecessary inbox messages. Some health systems have even started billing patients for MyChart messages as a way to tackle this issue. However, without a concerted effort to address this increasing burden, the effective physician workforce may be unnecessarily reduced, leading to increased occupational stress.

Can Artificial Intelligence Provide a Solution?

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As part of the search for solutions, physicians are testing Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools that listen to conversations and create written notes. This innovative approach has the potential to free physicians to focus more on patients, easing the documentation burden. Early feedback from participating physicians is positive; they have reported improvements in the quality of doctor-patient visits, reduced time spent on documentation, and a decrease in feelings of physician burnout.

Potential Challenges and the Way Forward

Despite the promising benefits, there are valid concerns, including transcription errors, omission of important medical details, and the risk of pressure to squeeze in more work. As such, clinician engagement is crucial to ensure accuracy and prevent over-reliance on the technology. Nevertheless, these AI tools, known as ambient intelligence tools, are being tested by health care systems on several EHR platforms. They have been reported to help declutter the mind during the visit and keep the focus on the patient rather than the computer.

Ultimately, addressing EHR burnout requires a multifaceted approach that includes both technological innovation and systemic changes. The goal is to create a sustainable healthcare system where physicians can focus on providing quality patient care without compromising their wellbeing.

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