New research from the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst reports that physician burnout is a problem in 83 percent of healthcare organizations.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality defines physician burnout as “a long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of a sense of personal accomplishment. Such burnout is increasing at an alarming rate in the U.S.

While clinical and technological innovation drive the health care industry, doctors are becoming strained and overworked. As burnout becomes more of an issue, the patient-physician experience is affected, and quality of care decreases.  

The work of physicians is stressful in and of itself, but the main reasons for burnout are attributed to the increasing need to document care for insurance companies and administrators. The burden of documentation negatively affects doctors, who feel frustrated that they cannot spend as much time treating their patients.  

Contributing Factors

According to one study, doctors spend almost half of a clinic appointment documenting care on a computer. The physician-patient relationship is grounded in one-on-one personal interaction. If the physician is unable to satisfy the need for that interaction because of endless documentation, the relationship is hurt both on the patient’s and the doctor’s end.  

Another study compared the length of clinic notes in the U.S. to those in Canada, Australia, and Singapore. The study found that in those countries, the average length of a clinic note was around 1,500 words. In the U.S., this length was triple. This length disparity reflects the profound stress on documentation that exists in the U.S. compared to other countries. It ultimately contributes to the growing physician burnout in the U.S.  

Though technology and innovation make many advances in the medical world, such advances do not come without consequences. Recognizing the elevated levels of physician burnout and the reasons for such burnout will contribute to a more productive environment for physicians, other healthcare professionals, and, ultimately, patients.  

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