Electronic Tools Fan the Flames of Physician Burnout

HealthLeaders Media News, June 27, 2016

Physicians who use EHRs and CPOEs are not just less satisfied with their clerical burdens, but also at higher risk for professional burnout, according to a national study.

Tait Shanafelt, MD
Tait Shanafelt

Add electronic health records systems to the list of factors that contribute to physician burnout.

So far, EHRs and computerized physician order entry systems aren't making good on their promise to make physicians' lives easier.

To the contrary, physicians who use EHRs and particularly CPOEs within their electronic practice environments are not just less satisfied with their clerical burden, but also at higher risk for professional burnout, according to a national study of physicians led by Mayo Clinic.

"Although electronic health records, electronic prescribing, and computerized physician order entry have been touted as ways to improve quality of care, these tools also create clerical burden, cognitive burden, frequent interruptions and distraction—all of which can contribute to physician burnout," Tait Shanafelt, MD, Mayo Clinic physician and lead author of the study, said in a news release.

"Burnout has been shown to erode quality of care, increase risk of medical errors, and lead physicians to reduce clinical work hours, suggesting that the net effect of these electronic tools on quality of care for the U.S. health care system is less clear."


Related: Stop Ignoring Physician Burnout


A Mayo study released in April found that for every one-point increase in the seven-point scale of emotional exhaustion, one of three domains measured by the Maslach Burnout Inventory, there was a 40% greater likelihood a physician would cut back his or her work hours over the next 24 months.

It's a problem that could exacerbate the already substantial projected U.S. physician workforce shortage as well as impact continuity of care for patients, Shanafelt told HealthLeaders Media at the time.

The study appearing in the July issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, also found that physicians in family medicine physicians, urologists, otolaryngologists, and neurologists, experienced even higher dissatisfaction with these tools than other specialists.

The study used data from 6,560 physicians included in the American Medical Association's Masterfile surveyed between August and October 2014.

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