Physician Burnout is a Data Problem

Addressing the data interoperability problem in healthcare is a critical step toward easing the physician burnout epidemic.

I became a physician to help people. Like many medical professionals, I was a highly engaged student who chose to go into healthcare because I wanted to do something that would not only challenge me but would also have a positive, meaningful impact on people’s lives. However, when I finished training and began practicing as an internal medicine physician, I experienced a profound disconnect between what I had hoped to be accomplishing and what I was actually doing on a day-to-day basis. Too often during a patient visit, I was spending more time entering data into, or pulling data from, a computer than I was interacting one-on-one with my patient. 

I am not the only one who has experienced this disconnect. Physicians everywhere are feeling the strain of trying to perform at their highest levels while shouldering an increasing load of administrative tasks – working within a system that does nothing to empower them and without the right tools at their disposal. Physician burnout, which has been a mounting concern for years, has become an epidemic in our healthcare system, with nearly 63% of physicians reporting signs of burnout.

My efforts to deliver high-quality care to my patients were hampered by my lack of access to the comprehensive, actionable health information – medical histories, medication records, personal details, etc. – that I needed to truly understand and treat the person who was before me. Without access to the right data, I could never be fully confident that I was making the best decisions about each patient’s care. My experience taught me that physician burnout is, at heart, a data problem. 

Solving the administrative issues that are the main cause of providers feeling frustrated and burned out requires making it easier for them to access the clinical data they need to fulfill their primary job -- delivering high-quality care to patients. But with medical records residing in so many disparate systems (EHRs, CMSs, patient portals, etc.) that don’t share the same data exchange standard, this has become nearly impossible. That is why interoperability has become a top priority in the healthcare industry. Most providers agree that they need to prioritize interoperability, but a recent survey from the Center for Connected Medicine found that only 37% of U.S. providers are currently able to share health data with other organizations.

Addressing the data interoperability problem in healthcare is a critical step toward easing the physician burnout epidemic. Making it easier for physicians to find and use the data they need to perform at the top of their license can empower them to: 

  • Improve patient outcomes: When physicians have access to the right data, they can make better decisions about patient care, leading to improved patient outcomes, such as shorter hospital stays, fewer complications, and lower mortality rates.
  • Reduce costs: By identifying potential problems early on, providers can take steps to prevent them, which would result in reduced costs, such as the cost of hospitalization, medication, and other treatments.
  • Increase satisfaction: By consistently providing high-quality care, physicians will be more likely to be satisfied with their job, which can increase retention and decrease burnout.

This ultimately will help providers to focus on clinical decision making and patient counseling, leaving true impact on patient lives and returning to the joy of medicine.

It’s not just physicians and health systems that stand to benefit from true interoperability of healthcare data – patients, too, are burned out and frustrated at filling out the same health history forms again and again before meeting with providers. In addition to streamlining their care visits, enabling patients to easily access and control their own health records can give them insight into how their health is evolving and allow them to better manage their own care. By putting them in control of their data, they can monitor their health conditions better, understand and stay on track with treatment plans, and make more informed lifestyle decisions that can positively impact their outcomes and quality of life.   

I know from firsthand experience that the lack of easy access to actionable clinical data is a big part of physician (and patient) burnout, but I also believe that this is a solvable problem. Creating a unified data ecosystem shared by physicians and patients can drive us toward a future defined less by constraints and frustrations, but one of true partnership where together, we can collaborate on the whole (patient) story.