Physician Burnout & EHR Fatigue

Physicians are skilled craft masters, responsible for expertly examining, diagnosing, and treating patients. This intense and all-consuming workload often leads to burnout and high levels of fatigue, intensified by irregular work hours and sleep patterns. However, manual labor is only one such form of burnout experienced by physicians.

A new form of fatigue, commonly known as “EHR Fatigue,” is becoming increasingly prevalent within the healthcare workplace. EHR Fatigue is physiological fatigue that occurs as physicians use their electronic health record (EHR) systems for an extended amount of time. This fatigue can be experienced within as little as 22 minutes of using an EHR.

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Physician Fatigue and EHR

To further investigate this issue, a study of 25 physicians was conducted by Jama Network Open. Each physician completed four simulations of ICU patients within an EHR system. The results are as follows: 

  • Every physician experienced physiological fatigue at some point.
  • Thirty-six percent experienced fatigue in the first minute.
  • Sixty-four percent experienced fatigue at least once in the first twenty minutes.
  • If a physician experienced fatigue, the next ICU case took more time, clicks, and screens to complete. 

Further research determined that the reason behind this physiological fatigue was due to “insufficient user-centered interface design and suboptimal usability” (JAMA). Physicians who faced the greatest physiological fatigue were those whose EHR systems decreased efficiency. The likelihood of error was amplified as the number of clicks and visited screens increased. Such error presents detrimental effects, including missing essential patient information.

On average, physicians review 12 or more patients per day, which can lead to several unnecessary hours spent using the EHR screen. If the likelihood of error increases with each patient, this causes serious concerns about patient safety, especially for those with appointments scheduled later in the day. 

To combat EHR fatigue, physicians should try the following:

  • Turn off unimportant alerts within the system.
  • Adjust screen brightness and increase text size, as needed.
  • Take regular breaks from technology.
  • Create shortcuts and favorites within the EHR.
  • Consider switching to a less “click-happy” EHR system.

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Tags: Physician Burnout, Physician Happiness, EHR Fatigue

Madisyn Frischknecht

Madisyn Frischknecht is a content creator, specializing in healthcare-related writing.