Physician burnout is a prevalent condition, with 42% of doctors reportedly suffering from it. At the top of the list are critical care physicians, rheumatologists and infectious disease specialists. Approximately half of all female physicians report burnout compared to 36% of their male counterparts.
As evidenced in Medscape's Physician Burnout and Suicide Report 2021, the top driver of burnout continues to be "too many administrative tasks." Doctors work an average of 51 hours per week, with almost half their workday spent on administrative work. Only about 30% of a physician's workday is spent on direct clinical care.
The American Medical Association (AMA) defines physician burnout as a long‑term stress reaction characterized by depersonalization. The AMA noted recently that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has “modified longstanding policies, eliminated some nonessential administrative tasks, and reduced preexisting constraints on team-based care.”
Even with these modifications by the CMS, administrative burden plays a central role in heightened stress levels – and not only for physicians. Other health care providers, such as nurses, are required to perform many tasks that aren’t directly focused on patient care.
For example, more than 15% of all nurses have reported feelings of burnout, the consequences of which include increased turnover rates, poor job performance and threats to patient safety. Nurse burnout, which costs the U.S. health care system $14 billion annually, is defined as a chronic response to work-related stress composed of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment. Nurses with a nurse-to-patient ratio of greater than 1:4 have a higher risk of burnout, with each additional patient raising the risk by 23%.
Rules and regulations
There are multiple reasons administrative tasks comprise so much of health care providers’ time on the job, from required comprehensive documentation to continued certification. Physician practices are responsible for complying with regulatory and insurance requirements and, along with payers, spend about $500 billion annually on billing and insurance-related (BIR) costs.
They also must deal with CMS requirements for quality and clinical reporting, even though less than 30% of physicians believe current measures are moderately or strongly representative of the quality of care.
In addition to the tasks needed to comply with multiple rules and regulations, physicians must provide performance data, maintain their medical licensure and admitting privilege and complete tasks to update their specialty certification. In between these tasks and patient care, they spend hours learning about new or changing treatments and procedures and educating themselves about trends in the health care and payer industries.
Benefits beyond improved patient care
Many physicians prefer to use technology to accomplish administrative tasks, probably because of the numerous benefits these solutions offer. Those that provide clinicians with more efficient communication improve care and decrease the risk for medical error. Mobile technology tools let doctors quickly access patient information and other data and discuss care plans with other physicians.
According to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), technologies such as patient portals, data analytics, automated appointment reminder systems, telehealth, check-in technologies and digital payment options have achieved the most positive results in recent years. For providers, they streamline practice workflow, improve patient experience and lead to more efficient and effective care delivery when implemented strategically.
Other advantages of health care technology designed to streamline administrative tasks include:
- Improved accuracy
- Increased reimbursement and practice revenue
- Decreased paperwork
- Reduced costs
- Targeted population health
- Increased patient engagement
- Decreased wait times
- Improved patient satisfaction
Top technology tools
Not all technology created to assist health care providers helps do so. Solutions that are poorly designed may increase stress for physicians instead of reducing it.
Physicians waste an average of 45 minutes per day using outdated communication technologies, resulting in a lack of interoperability and productivity that costs hospitals in the United States more than $8.3 billion annually. Sometimes, resources such as some electronic health record (EHR) systems not only promote waste and inefficiency, but also actually worsen physician burnout.
To achieve the goal of reducing health care administrative workload, technology solutions must be designed and implemented with both providers and their patients in mind, and also offer actionable data directly at points-of-care. They should enable automation of many routine processes, foster teamwork and collaboration and promote connected care.
Following are some technology tools used by health care providers to assist them in spending less time on administration and more on patient care:
Digital intake/check-in tools: Utilizing digital check-in technology for the patient intake process streamlines registration and enables providers to more quickly and easily retrieve completed patient forms and insurance verification. It also frees front-office staff from time-consuming paperwork review and revisions and offers a more complete, accurate look at patients’ medical history and medication. According to some research, a high percentage of patients seek providers with technology that offers digital scheduling, online payment options, patient portals and results reporting tools.
Telehealth: This technology, which was used far more often in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, helps improve workflows by reducing administrative tasks. It also enables Americans living in rural communities to more easily and cost-efficiently access health care.
Patient Engagement Resources: Patients who are fully engaged in their care are more likely to maintain treatment plans, track their health and ask their providers questions. Tools designed to promote patient engagement can offer reduced costs, increased communication and streamlined population health.
Practice Management Software: By assisting health care providers in conducting an array of financial and administrative functions, this type of technology enables practice staff quickly and efficiently to capture patient demographics, schedule appointments, perform billing procedures, conduct authorization and referral management, increase reimbursement from payers, communicate electronically with patients and other providers, generate comprehensive reports and store documents electronically.
Medical Billing Software: Providers can improve operational efficiency by using medical billing software to conduct patient registration, verify insurance coverage, collect patient payments and scrub and submit claims.
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