An Altogether True Reflection

By Matt Fisher, Esq
Twitter: @matt_r_fisher
Host of Healthcare de Jure#HCdeJure

A new twitter account called @EPICEMRparody is garnering a lot of attention for its comments about the burdens placed upon physicians and other clinicians connected to the use of electronic health records. The account not only skewers the frustrating tedious work and additions to work created by EHRs but other points of frustration to daily practice among physicians.

As can often be said about satire, it is an easy way of getting to inconvenient and harsh truths. Cloaking an issue in humor will draw attention and quick understanding. However, when satire is all to close to the real world, then the frustration can become all too apparent.

The reality being captured by the account was also highlighted in a recent article by Janae Sharp that dove into the issues raised by EHR use. The article highlighted the diverging views from EHR vendors and the physicians using the products. The EHR vendors claim that EHRs are not necessarily a primary driver of physician burnout. The popular storyline is that EHRs drive up the occurrence of burnout because the EHR interferes with the smooth flow between physicians and patients as well as adding numerous administrative burdens onto physicians.

Despite the prevalence of those anecdotes, the EHR vendor industry is pushing back on that narrative. Recently, citing data not yet released, the EHR vendors suggested that despite EHRs being cited as the second leading cause for burnout, there is not a correspondingly high dissatisfaction with EHRs. Without the benefit of the data behind those conclusions, it is difficult to assess the accuracy or even the source of the data.

Regardless of what research has been done or verified, there are some serious issues when it comes to what physicians encounter and must address in daily practice. Some common complaints include being made to feel like basic data entry clerks, not being able to focus on maintaining an actual conversation with patients, not being able to find data, and numerous other issues. All of the complaints come down to the issue of not being able to really engage with patients and pursue what they thought would be their role when entering the practice of medicine.

The concerns are garnering a growing amount of general attention. That means concerns about burnout are being brought to the fore and not just pushed into the background. An open and honest discussion about burnout is essential. Otherwise, physicians could leave medicine altogether or taking other more drastic actions.

What can be done to address burnout? That remains an open question. While there will not be one simple or single solution, just discussing the issue and thinking about how to realign medicine is a significant start. Additionally, recognizing that the initial iteration of health technology tools including EHRs did not result in the expected medical nirvana is also important. From that perspective, many solutions and programs are now more actively considering how to actually make a physician’s practice easier and trying to think about a physician’s actual workflow. Instead of imposing a solution onto a non-existent problem or thinking that the developer knows best, there can be some back and forth or research into where real pain points exist.

Progress to reducing burnout will take time, though hopefully not too much when taking into account the toll on physicians and correspondingly patients. Too much is at stake in the healthcare system to let burnout continuing mounting. In the meantime, each person asking themselves how they can help and reaching out to a physician expressing concerns will help. Collective effort will be appreciated.

This article was originally published on Mirick O’Connell’s Health Law Blog and is republished here with permission.