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“Physician Burnout” Because of Electronic Medical Records to be a Large Problem in Medicine

By Jack H. FarnbauchNovember 8, 2019

The numbing repetition, the box-ticking, and the endless searching on pulldown menus are all part of what Ratwani calls the “cognitive burden” that’s wearing out today’s physicians and driving increasing numbers into early retirement.

In recent years, “physician burnout” has skyrocketed to the top of the agenda in medicine. A 2018 Merritt Hawkins survey found a staggering 78% of doctors suffered symptoms of burnout, and in January the Harvard School of Public Health and other institutions deemed it a “public health crisis.”

One of the coauthors of the Harvard study, Ashish Jha, pinned much of the blame on “the growth in poorly designed digital health records … that [have] required that physicians spend more and more time on tasks that don’t directly benefit patients.”

“You’re sitting in front of a patient, and there are so many things you have to do, and you only have so much time to do it in—seven to 11 minutes, probably—so when do you really listen?” asks John-Henry Pfifferling, a medical anthropologist who counsels physicians suffering from burnout. “If you go into medicine because you care about interacting, and then you’re just a tool, it’s dehumanizing,” says Pfifferling, who has seen many physicians leave medicine over the shift to electronic records. “It’s a disaster,” he says.

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