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reducing physician burnout through better technology

Physician Burnout: Decreasing Documentation Through Digital Technology

Those of you who work in a physician practice know burnout is real. Many doctors in the United States put in an average of 40-60 hours per week. In fact, these medical professionals report burnout at rates two times greater than non-physician working adults. Tragically, approximately 300-400 doctors annually commit suicide, a rate more than double that of the general population. 

There’s a cost to this burnout beyond the mental and physical health of doctors. Physician burnout has been directly linked to an array of problems, including decreased patient satisfaction and care quality, physician alcohol and drug abuse and addiction and high medical error rates, malpractice risk and physician and staff turnover. On the financial side, it has been found to cost the healthcare industry between $500,000-$1 million per doctor

If you’re interested in a more comprehensive discussion on physician burnout, download our complete guide to physician burnout.

The Cost of Healthcare Rules and Regulations 

Although the transition to value-based care is designed to enhance financial and clinical performance through provider incentives, the guidelines and requirements that accompany it often add another layer of work for physicians. There’s probably not a work day that goes by when you’re not performing some administrative task correlated with these rules and regulations. 

One is the time-consuming, oft-changing and sometimes complicated process of meeting Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requirements for quality and clinical reporting. Did you know that there are approximately 1,700 healthcare measures used by CMS alone? 

Another is guidelines for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), HIPAA, CHIP and MACRA and incentive programs such as the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). The documentation required to comply with these program stipulations often results in excessive paperwork and multiple administrative tasks – all of which detract from time physicians spend with their patients. Here are some statistics from numerous sources to prove the point:

  • Almost half a doctor’s work day is spent on administrative work, while only 27 percent is spent on direct clinical care.
  • U.S. physician practices spend an average of 785 hours per physician and more than $15.4 billion annually dealing with the reporting of quality measures. 
  • On average, doctors in the U.S. spend 2.6 hours weekly complying with external quality measures, enough time in an outpatient setting to see approximately nine additional patients.
  • For each hour of clinical face time physicians spend with patients, an additional two are filled with administrative and clerical tasks.
  • Eighty-one percent of practices report the effort they spent on quality measures is increasing compared to three years ago.
  • Forty-six percent report that dealing with measures that are similar but not identical is a significant burden.
  • Less than 30 percent of physicians believe current measures are moderately or strongly representative of quality of care.
  • Almost 40 percent of doctors list regulatory and insurance requirements as one of the two least satisfying things about their jobs.
  • The per physician time spent by physicians and staff specific activities related to external quality measures translates to an average cost of $40,069 per physician per year; the average for primary care practices is $50,468.
  • Staff other than doctors spend 12.5 hours weekly per physician dealing with quality measures.

Providing performance data and learning and complying with so many rules and regulations aren’t the only things for which physicians are responsible outside of patient care. They have to be informed about new or changing treatments, procedures and diagnoses and educate themselves on issues affecting the healthcare and insurance industries. 

Of course, dealing with payers can be stressful for both physicians and their team members. Many health insurers are mandating more detailed documentation for reimbursement, and private payers often require extra-specific documentation and billing criteria. 

Reduction of Documentation Through Patient Engagement 

According to a study published by NEJM Catalyst, almost half of clinicians, clinical leaders and healthcare executives believe organizational interventions to reduce physician burnout should be targeted to payer documentation requirements. Similarly, research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine maintained that enacting regulatory reform for fewer documentation requirements for doctors would improve accuracy, enable better use for research and help decrease overall physician burnout. 

Though such reforms aren’t scheduled to be implemented soon, there are other ways physician practices can cut down on documentation, including a focus on patient engagement. An article in the European Journal of Human Genetics notes that “patient experience and satisfaction have been demonstrated to be the single most important aspect in assessing the quality of healthcare and has even been shown to be a predictor of survival rates.”  

Other benefits of patient engagement are reduced costs, increased communication and streamlined population health. As an article in Patient Engagement HIT explains, patients who are fully engaged in their care are more likely to maintain treatment plans, track their health and ask their providers questions. 

Achieving Advantages Through Digital Check-in Technology 

Technology is most likely already a big part of your practice. By utilizing it to promote patient engagement, you can lower the burden on providers by putting documentation in patients’ hands. Many patients want to be more involved in their own care, anyway. 

One solution? Digital check-in. The MGMA Research & Analysis Report: Optimization of Healthcare Technology to Improve Patient Engagement found that “implementing check-in technologies that make sense for a practice’s unique patient demographics…can reduce the administrative burdens and delays of processing paperwork and simultaneously improve patient experience.” 

Enabling patients to use this technology vastly streamlines the check-in process, decreases wait times and reduces the workload of practice staff members. Patients can use a personal smartphone, from home or in the office, to verify their insurance, sign consent forms and authorization releases, verify or update clinical information and more — all of which updates in real-time with the patient’s electronic record. 

Increasing your practice’s efficiency and revenue has never been so easy. Learn more about our customizable Epion Check-in solution and how it can be integrated with your EHR and practice management system.