Recently, I attended a Rewards & Recognition gala in Boston, where many of our physician friends were present.
During social hour and discussion, we talked about the topic that invariably creeps up in such groups. It was about the growing physician work overload. Everyone unanimously thought that the cause for this burden is both the information explosion (blame the Internet for this) as well as the need for comprehensive documentation (blame the lawyers!). Although some of this is caused by the threat of frivolous malpractice lawsuits, a good part of the problem is compounded by the proliferation of digital tools (many of those in the healthcare are pretty bad mind you, but let’s leave that for another day).
I started explaining how you can’t really escape the current reality of the digital world and that there are many effective technology tools that save time, especially for repetitive or disruptive tasks that take the focus away from the main job at hand. I also mentioned to the group that we recently launched a product that will help streamline many of the tasks they perform. One of the physicians quickly retorted, ‘What? Another digital tool? No way.’ I was taken aback by the visceral reaction, but in a way saw where he was coming from.
On the way home, I was still thinking about this apparent paradox. It almost didn’t matter as to what the actual tool was supposed to do and whether it was any good or not. The fact that it was a piece of technology was sufficient for it to be shunned. Is it really the digital technology that are causing the issues or there are some other factors at play? If you dig deeper, the problem seems to lie with the systems that are not designed to quickly adapt to the changing world. A lot of burden comes from the fact that physicians have partly become data entry clerks.
Unlike in the case of other professionals, say lawyers, they don’t get to push this overload in terms of time billed to their clients. They have to get all this work done in their personal time, resulting in the staggering 2:1 ratio of documentation time vs patient encounters. In some instances, the technology including both the hardware and software are slow or outdated (A case in point, my cardiologist wife had a really old, underpowered computer outfitted in her office with the disk space, RAM and the CPU speed well below the limits specified by their EHR system EPIC; causing frequent slowdowns, crashes and unexplained performance issues. This was never diagnosed or flagged by the IT support staff for a very long time, even though it was obvious that there was a problem. Unfortunately clinicians neither have the time or inclination to research such issues and would rather spend time on the patient care!)
We believe that there is a chance for some ‘digital shortcuts’ that physicians and other healthcare professionals can utilize to make their lives easier. There are many repetitive tasks that could be automated with ‘productivity hacks’. Also, with effective collaborative tools information can be easily tagged, queried and accessed; thus, bringing the elusive-when-you-need-it-most bits of information at the clinicians’ fingertips. The digital revolution is no more a fad or gimmick and is here to stay. Rather than fighting the ‘digital’, clinicians should rally to challenge and address the administrative and policy decisions that seem to miss the core reasons behind the excessive fatigue.