By Heather Lavoie, Chief Strategy Officer, Geneia

Physician burnout spikes 25 percent in four years.

That’s the headline from an article about Medscape’s 2017 Physician Lifestyle Survey.

The article reports physician burnout has increased from 40 percent in 2013 to 51 percent today. At 55 percent, the burnout rate is even higher for family and internal medicine physicians, an especially troubling finding for hospitals and health systems who have increasingly acquired physician practices.

Without a doubt, these are alarming statistics — ones that should concern all of us who work in health care, and patients, too. But I’ll confess I’m not surprised.

Given what physicians are expected to accomplish during each patient visit, I’m amazed the burnout numbers aren’t higher.

In fact, the level of burnout noted in the Medscape survey aligns with the findings of a 2015 Geneia survey of more than 400 physicians nationwide practicing full time, which found widespread physician burnout. The survey also revealed:

  • 87 percent of physicians said the “business and regulation of health care” has changed the practice of medicine for the worse.
  • 84 percent believe quality patient time may be a thing of the past.
  • 78 percent said they frequently feel rushed when seeing patients.

Likewise, I suspect most patients frequently feel rushed when seeing their physician. When I think about all that physicians are asked to accomplish during a typical patient visit, it’s easy to understand why everyone involved feels hurried.

It seems to me the heart of the physician-patient relationship is rooted in patient visits, and I suspect the problem and the solution lies in looking at patient visits in more detail. After all, for most physicians, the ability to create meaningful relationships with their patients and truly impact health outcomes is why they entered medicine, and therefore is critical to experiencing joy in their work. Similarly, when I talk with patients, they too want a strong relationship with their physician.

Physicians and Patients Feel Rushed
The average patient visit is about 19 minutes, according to Medscape’s 2017 Physician Compensation Report, And, only 52.9 percent of a visit — about 10 minutes — is dedicated to talking to or examining patients, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

To add even more stress on this limited time, there is an ever-expanding list of things for the physician to do during the 10 minutes of patient interaction and examination:

  • Greet the patient and ask the patient why he or she has come into the office. Potentially engage in a dialogue about a chronic or recurring illness.
  • Examine, assess and diagnose the patient, many of whom have complex comorbidities and are impacted by the social determinants of health.
  • Explain the diagnosis, the treatment plan and next steps.
  • Answer questions.
  • Get to know the patient. Create and maintain a relationship with him or her.

At the risk of stating the obvious, that’s a demanding and action-packed 10 minutes, and the physician needs to do this as many as 18 times a day. Every day.

Is it any wonder physicians are increasingly burned out?

What If Technology Could Reduce Physician Burnout?

Even before we began surveying physicians on burnout, we at Geneia started asking ourselves, “What if technology had a heart?” That is, how might technology help reduce burnout? 

In answering that question, we set out to create technology solutions can help stop physician burnout and increase the satisfaction of physicians and patients. We have always believed technology and analytics designed with physician input and that fit within the existing workflow can help restore the joy of medicine to physician practice. 

We believe:

  • Physicians are a highly valued, limited resource;
  • The central tenant to design of physician workflows and tasks must be to minimize the overall effort expended by physicians;
  • To the greatest extent possible, everything that can be done by someone other than a physician, should; and
  • That other administrative and care team members are perfectly equipped, if given the right information and tools, to identify risk, coordinate care, manage open care opportunities, close care and coding gaps, motivate and engage patients, and perform record keeping to maximize a return on quality, cost and revenue.
  • We must reserve physicians’ time for the patient relationship, diagnosis and treatment.

How Remote Patient Monitoring Helps Stop Physician Burnout

Remote patient monitoring programs are a perfect example of how technology can help reduce burnout. Nearly all components of the remote patient monitoring program happen outside of the traditional patient visit, and are managed by a broader care team.

For example, Geneia’s remote patient monitoring 24x7x365 solution combines predictive analytics, state-of-the-art technology and clinical support to help chronically ill patients as well as their physician and care team better understand, monitor and manage their health.

Remote patient monitoring and its daily transmission of vitals from the patient’s home to his or her care team complements and enhances the care provided in the physician’s office, which may lead to earlier intervention and the elimination of avoidable emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

To examine other potential benefits of remote patient monitoring, we conducted a 12-month scientific study that found the following benefits from remote patient monitoring:

  • Slower disease progression: The risk score of monitored patients increased 29 percent compared to an increase of 58 percent for the control group.
  • Reduced hospitalizations: Hospital admissions declined 76 percent for study participants and 31 percent for the control group.
  • Lower costs: Medical spend was 50 percent less for monitored patients.

Remote patient monitoring also results in more fruitful office visits for the physician and the patient. Rather than rely on patient recollections, accurate health values are seamlessly integrated into the patient’s health record. They’re aggregated and actionable during and between patient visits.

All of us need and want satisfied physicians. That’s why those of us who work at Geneia are so passionate about solutions like remote patient monitoring programs that effectively use technology to improve patient care as well as patient and physician satisfaction.