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  • Writer's pictureCindy Davis

The Hidden Overtime of Our Physician Heroes

Dual image of two docotors representing work with patients and burnout.

It’s National Physician's Week (March 25-31, 2024), a poignant reminder of the invaluable role doctors play in our lives and a call to action for technology vendors to do a better job supporting their work. Physicians not only navigate years of rigorous schooling and grueling shifts but also make emotionally challenging decisions daily to provide the care we need with unwavering focus and kindness. They significantly enhance our lives' duration and quality, tirelessly leveraging cutting-edge science for our well-being. Yet, recent shifts toward electronic health record (EHR) systems have added a layer of complexity to physicians already demanding roles, contributing to burnout.  

The EHR Paradox

The introduction of EHR systems was intended to streamline patient care and enhance the efficiency of health documentation. However, the reality has been starkly different. Dr. Louise Aronson in her book Elderhood paints a vivid picture of the situation: for every hour spent with patients, doctors allocate two to three hours to EHRs, often extending their work into "pajama time" at home. This technological shift, meant to improve healthcare delivery, has inadvertently strained the doctor-patient relationship, becoming a significant source of physician burnout.

The narrative shared by Byers "Bud" Shaw, a transplant surgeon, underscores this challenge further. The hours spent on after-hours data entry and managing in-box communications reveal an underappreciated aspect of physician workload that extends well beyond traditional office hours, impacting their personal time and well-being.

A Call for Change

The statistics are telling. According to Stanford Medicine’s 2018 White Paper, "The Future of Electronic Health Records," physicians spend nearly 62% of their time per patient interacting with the EHR. This disproportionate allocation of time to electronic systems detracts from direct patient care and contributes to the growing phenomenon of clinician burnout—a state characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a sense of reduced personal accomplishment.

The HITECH Act's push towards EHR adoption, while successful in making digital records commonplace, also highlights an unfulfilled promise. The anticipated benefits of seamless data exchange and enhanced care coordination have been overshadowed by the cumbersome user interfaces and billing complexities of EHR systems. The result? A significant toll on physician satisfaction and patient care quality.

Honoring Physician Dedication

This National Physician's Week, we want to shine a light on the extraordinary efforts and sacrifices our physicians make, especially as they navigate the additional challenges posed by EHRs. Their dedication to entering patient information, often in their own time, is a testament to their commitment to patient welfare.

We join the call for improvements to the EHR user experience, advocating for changes that will enhance job satisfaction and reduce burnout among physicians. As we celebrate the incredible contributions of our doctors, let's also acknowledge the need for systemic changes that support their work rather than hinder it.

Expressing Gratitude

Let's use this week to express our gratitude toward our physicians for their unwavering service. Simple notes, social media accolades, or acknowledgments can go a long way in showing our appreciation. Together, we can advocate for a healthcare environment that supports our physicians' well-being and allows them to continue their noble work under the best conditions.

As we celebrate National Physician's Week, let's remember the human behind the screen—the dedicated doctors working tirelessly to care for us all. Here's to our physicians, the unsung heroes of our time.


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