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Stress from using electronic health records is linked to physician burnout

Common causes of EHR-related stress include too little time for documentation, time spent at home managing records and tricky user interfaces.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

While electronic health records improve communication and access to patient data, researchers found that stress from using EHRs is associated with burnout, particularly for primary care doctors such as pediatricians, family medicine physicians and general internists.

Common causes of EHR-related stress include too little time for documentation, time spent at home managing records and EHR user interfaces that are not intuitive to the physicians who use them, according to the findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

IMPACT

The Rhode Island Department of Health surveys practicing physicians in Rhode Island every two years about how they use health information technology, as part of a legislative mandate to publicly report healthcare quality data. In 2017, the research team included questions about health information technology-related stress, and specifically, EHR-related stress.

Of the almost 4,200 practicing physicians in the state, 43 percent responded. Almost all of the doctors, 91 percent, used EHRs -- and of these, 70 percent reported at least one measure of EHR-related stress.

Measures included agreeing that EHRs add to the frustration of their day, spending moderate to excessive amounts of time on EHRs while they were at home and reporting insufficient time for documentation while at work.

The researchers found that doctors with insufficient time for documentation while at work had 2.8 times the odds of burnout symptoms compared to doctors without that pressure. The other two measures had roughly twice the odds of burnout symptoms.

WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW

The researchers also found that EHR-related stress is dependent on the physician's specialty.

More than a third of primary care physicians reported all three measures of EHR-related stress -- including general internists (39.5 percent), family medicine physicians (37 percent) and pediatricians (33.6 percent). Many dermatologists (36.4 percent) also reported all three measures of EHR-related stress.

On the other hand, less than 10 percent of anesthesiologists, radiologists and hospital medicine specialists reported all three measures of EHR-related stress.

While family medicine physicians (35.7 percent) and dermatologists (34.6 percent) reported the highest levels of burnout, in keeping with their high levels of EHR-related stress, hospital medicine specialists came in third at 30.8 percent. Researchers suspect that other factors, such as a chaotic work environment, contribute to their rates of burnout.

THE TREND

Physicians and nurses have been struggling with burnout for a while now, driven largely by worsening shortages in both fields. But they're not the only ones feeling besieged by stress. A recent poll from the Medical Group Management Association finds that 73 percent of healthcare leaders feel at least some degree of burnout.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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