I’m encountering more and more discussion of the prevalence of physician burnout; some estimate that as many as half of all physicians have some signs of burnout. Interestingly, a few have linked it to the increased burden of having to use electronic health records, or EHRs.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN did a study and reported that physicians who used EHRs or computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems were dissatisfied with how much time they spent on clerical tasks. It also found that CPOE use (but not EHR use) was associated with burnout (although results varied significantly by specialty).

While the immediate reaction may be to criticize the use of electronic medical practice because it results in interruptions or distractions, I think it is likely that this may simply be a “growing pain” associated from this advance in practice. Obviously none of us want our doctors to have to spend more time on administrative tasks and less time helping patients, but no one thought that adopting EHRs would be completely smooth sailing. Physicians who are just starting out today likely will never know a world without EHRs; those forced to change after years of doing things a different way may simply be struggling to adjust how they interact with patients and plan their day. It’s almost universally agreed that EHRs have the potential to improve patient care through standardization, automatic reminders, and remote access of records. It may just take some time for physicians (and their practices) to properly incorporate them into their practice so that they maintain or even increase their efficiency.

However, this will not likely be an issue that simply goes away. This sort of sweeping change always results in significant push-back from those affected. You can read the Mayo Clinic’s news release about the study below: