Physician burnout is something that many physicians suffer from and the rest are afraid of. Basically, it's a state of mind where doctors lose all satisfaction that comes with their job. They start seeing patients as enemies who want to use them, they lack motivation, and they may end up depressed or even suicidal. Being a doctor is such a critical job that anything less than an optimum mental state can result in terrible consequences. If a doctor is suffering from burnout, they’ll most likely be less attentive and more forgetful. The general population should care about this issue for two reasons. The first is for their own health. If a doctor isn’t working at optimum mental capacity, his or her patients will definitely be negatively impacted. The second reason is for the well-being of the doctors themselves. Even if you don’t have a doctor in the family or as a friend, doctors are still an essential part of society and their well-being is something everyone should be concerned about.
Technology is a major player here. It is both a cause and a potential cure for physician burnout. In order for it to become more pleasant and useful, much work has been done to make it simpler, more reliable, and with better designed informatics and analysis. Technology should also have a purpose instead of adding unnecessary obstacles in the path of physicians that get in the way of them doing their jobs.
Unfortunately, technology has done as much harm as good in the healthcare field. Yes, electronic health records are more easily accessible and easier to retrieve, but software fails sometimes or can be too complex for physicians. The thing about handwritten history is that it’s something all doctors are used to and each doctor may even have his or her slight variation of history taking. Having to fill data into a complex software can be a time killer. The main issue doctors have with technology is exactly that; it takes up too much of their time. Doctors want to help people and this is done through talking to them and dealing with them face to face. If they have to spend more time in front of screens, then they have less time for patients.
Instead of seeing 15 patients a day, a doctor can only see 8 or 9 because of the additional time needed to input and update the patient data into the electronic records. This time can potentially increase if the software fails or an update makes it too complex. Doctors report feeling less job satisfaction because of the time spent in front of screens rather than with patients. All the regulations being imposed on the necessity of using technology all the time doesn’t help either. It forces doctors to do something that takes away from the pleasure of their job. Of course, when we’re talking about technology here, we don’t mean technology used to diagnose and/or treat patients.
The first way technology can help limit and prevent physician burnout is by being simple and reliable. Software developers need to work on making things as simple and straightforward as possible. Remember how simple a pager was? It didn’t do anything except beep and relay a short message. Doctors loved it. They still do, actually - some doctors still use their pagers. There are smart phone apps that can do the same things a pager does and a lot more. With a phone, you can transfer and transmit more data rather than a short message. Some phone apps can analyze medical data as well, rather than just relay it. Despite all of these extra features, many doctors still prefer the pager. If it’s simple and works, why change it? They don’t want something fancy if it’ll get in the way of life.
Another point to consider is reliability. There’s no room for error in medicine and you need something that is as reliable as possible. That’s why studies are made to compare different diagnostic techniques in order to find the one that works best under certain circumstances. Why? Because as a doctor, you and the patient can’t afford errors. Forget about money, an error in medicine could mean a life. An app failing or going offline for a while could be disastrous to a practice. What if a doctor can’t access a patient’s record in the emergency room and needs to know whether or not an unconscious patient is allergic to a certain drug? In a private setting, this could also be very bad for business. A patient waits an hour to see their doctor only for the software to crash a few minutes into their meeting. What should the doctor do? What if he can’t tell when the problem will be fixed?
There’s no reason to create additional problems for doctors, because practicing medicine is tricky enough. Keeping things simple and reliable is the best way to go, because it makes sure that a doctor can do their job in the best possible conditions. This will in turn reduce the stress a doctor faces, ultimately decreasing the risk for burnout.
The introduction of new technology should also be necessary or desired. A lot of the technology being used today has been requested by doctors or patients. On the contrary, most of the technology that adds stress to being a doctor was never desired or requested by anyone. Why introduce something that no one wants? Perhaps interviewing various doctors and creating questionnaires for doctors and patients can help identify areas where technology is needed and ways it can make life simpler. Perhaps this can also explore ways to improve current software and technology being used. It wouldn’t hurt to create software that’s good at analysis and creating well-designed informatics.
Yes, this seems like it's contradicting what we said about keeping it simple, but it’s not. When we’re talking about ways to notify doctors of emergencies or patient data, we don’t need things to be overly complicated. On the other hand, if an app is going to analyze data, then why not do it right? There’s no point in analyzing simple data that a doctor can do on the spot without any additional help.
Technology is and always will be a double-edged sword. It makes our lives simpler and more complex simultaneously. We have the means to reach everyone we want at the click of a button, but at the same time we’re bombarded by countless notifications that we don’t want. Luckily there’s much room for improvement. Technology has added to healthcare so much through telemedicine, allowing patients to be monitored at home, the transfer of investigations and documents between doctors, and even monitoring examinations done by other doctors remotely. Even something like email and social media have been of great help to patients. There are ways doctors can communicate with patients and answer their questions. This can save unnecessary visits to doctors and give them more time to deal with patients who actually need to visit their office instead of going specifically for one or two questions.
The wonderful thing about technology is that it has no limits. There’s always room for improvement. If the software and apps that doctors rely on keep improving in ways that doctors need, then they’ll be of great aid to them. The key is to keep simple things simple and make sure that those associated with informatics and data analysis work properly. It’s also important to ensure that everything is working and available all the time. No one wants an amazing app that keeps crashing at vital times.
- The abundance of technology has both benefits and disadvantages for doctors.
- Technology should only be implemented if it is requested.
- Better, efficient technology that does not distract could help combat physicians' burnout.