More on Quality and Safety

82% of clinicians, IT leaders blame burnout on interruptions from tech tools

Even necessary distractions from treating patients, which happen as often as 10 times every hour, trigger stress for doctors and nurses alike.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Physicians and nurses report a high level of stress associated with interruptions from texts, alerts, alarms, pages and phone calls, all having to do with work but disruptive to patient care.

The research of 150 clinical and IT professionals, in fact, shows that 82 percent feel these interruptions contribute to stress and burnout.

Hospitals should pay attention because stress can lead to burnout and physician and nurse turnover. The resulting expenses are compounded by well-known physician and nurse shortages amid competition to fill positions.

The survey was conducted by HIMSS Analytics, which is associated with HIMSS, the parent company of Healthcare Finance News and Vocera, an IT company that offers a clinical communications platform.

The vast majority of respondents in the survey, 88 percent, said they agree technology-related interruptions make patient care more difficult. 

Thirty-five percent of clinicians said these interruptions occur 6-10 times per hour while another 37 percent said they received messages 2-5 times in an hour.

"Doctors and nurses are on the receiving end of alerts and alarms," said Liz Boehm, research director, Experience Innovation Network with Vocera. "In a hospital setting, patients set up on an IV pump, there is monitoring set up to provide notification when things happen. They are also told 'Your lab results are ready.' Some have urgency, some are less urgent. Sometimes it's a colleague reaching out to say, 'I have a question and need your input.'" 

In a clinical environment some interruptions are necessary. However, Boehm said. "There are so many systems now, clinicians can get overwhelmed."

Nurses get equal alarms for an inpatient whose heart rate has reached an unsafe level to another whose IV monitor is beeping due to something more routine.  

Physicians are alerted when a patient's lab tests are ready. In the case of a pathology report for cancer, the doctor will want to give that information as soon as possible to the patient, while the result of routine blood work can wait. 

Two-thirds of respondents believe technological interruptions should be reviewed at least quarterly, but that's not happening.

The research follows an American Medical Association report that found for every hour physicians spend with patients, they spend two hours on EHR and other work. 

Nurses spend 21 percent of their 12-hour shift interacting with the EHR and 33 percent total with technology, according to an UPMC study cited by the researchers.

The turnover cost for replacing an experienced nurse in ICU or the OR is between $60,000 and $100,000 per nurse, according to a study by JohnGSelf Partners.  For physicians, the numbers are higher. Analysts estimate that losing a primary care physician can cost hospitals between $500,000 and $1.2 million in additional expenses and lost revenue, the study said.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: