Is Your EHR Contributing to Physician Burnout?

Posted on September 28, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Sara Plampin, Senior Instructional Writer from The Breakaway Group (A Xerox Company). Check out all of the blog posts in the Breakaway Thinking series.
Sara Plampin - The Breakaway Group
It’s finally come, the day you’ve been working toward for years – Go Live. Thousands (or even millions) of dollars, hundreds of hours planning and calculating and going back to the drawing board, and it’s about to pay off. You sit back and take a breath, proudly watching as your organization takes its first steps into the future.

And then the complaints start to trickle in. The Electronic Health Record (EHR) feels clunky, it doesn’t match current workflows, documentation takes too long, and the physicians refuse to use it.

Frustrations over EHR functionality and increased documentation time are a leading cause of burnout among medical workers. Physician practices, in particular, are showing a decrease in EHR use over time. Physicians say hefty documentation requirements take away valuable face-to-face time with patients, making them feel more like scribes than doctors.

The issue has led to physician groups reviving the ‘Quadruple Aim’ movement, in which physician wellness is more emphasized.

quadruple-aim-of-healthcare-physician-wellness

While many are quick to attribute this dissatisfaction to the EHR itself, it is more likely the result of a poor implementation plan that focused more on technological requirements and less on long-term adoption needs. There are three ways to ensure the needs of physicians and clinical staff are met and you have a successful EHR adoption.

Involve Clinical Staff from the Get-Go
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is failing to include clinical staff in the initial decision-making process. Before choosing an EHR vendor, assemble a team of representatives from all areas of your organization – not just physicians and nurses. Ancillary departments such as therapy, radiology, and pharmacy are often overlooked when it comes to EHR design and training. Each representative will be aware of the specific needs and workflows for their department; they can compile requests from their colleagues and help research different vendor options to determine which EHR is the ideal match for your organization.

Once the EHR is selected, clinical staff members become an integral part of the design team. Although vendor representatives can help identify best practice workflows, ultimately your employees are the experts on how the EHR will be used in their department. HIMSS physicians cited five factors that contribute to EHR usability issues: navigation, data entry, structured documentation, interoperability, and clinical decision support. Involving clinicians in the design and testing phases allows them to identify solutions to some of these common issues, making the EHR more intuitive for future users.

Including members from all areas of the organization not only ensures better EHR selection and design – it also improves morale. When staff feel like their voices are heard, the project becomes a joint initiative rather than a regulation from upper management. Representatives from the design team act as a go-between, communicating their peers’ requests to executives, while in turn reinforcing the importance of the transition and garnering excitement for go live and beyond.

Realistic, Time-Effective Training
Once the EHR design is solid, the next step is to make sure all staff are properly trained and comfortable using the application. While this may seem obvious, training is another area where many organizations fall short. It is not just the amount of training that matters, but also the type and timing of training. Full-day classroom training sessions can be ineffective for adult learners. Additionally, planning training days around complicated shift schedules is difficult, as is finding replacement staff. This is particularly an issue at small physician practices, where physicians may have to sacrifice patient time in order to complete training.

A more modern, time-effective approach to training is online simulation. Learning is chunked into modules based on small tasks users may complete throughout their day. Thus, learning can be spread over days or weeks, whenever the physician has a free moment. Simulations allow learners to practice using the EHR, giving them the chance to fail without repercussions and develop muscle memory for daily tasks. By go live, using the EHR should feel like second nature.

A lot of the frustrations users feel about navigation and documentation requirements result from their unfamiliarity with the application. When they receive the right training, they will feel confident using the EHR, thus reducing documentation time and increasing face-to-face time with patients.

Constant Feedback/Reevaluation
As with all large-scale projects, even the best laid plans are bound to hit a snag or two. If you’ve established a solid communication channel with all department representatives, you will be prepared to handle any complaints that come your way after go live. It is important that all staff have a clear path to communicate problems and suggestions, and that they are comfortable doing so. The best way to avoid dissatisfaction among your employees is to hear their complaints and proactively fix these issues.

If you’ve already implemented an EHR and are now dealing with the types of complaints outlined above, this is the place for you to start. Create testing and measurement procedures to determine how users are currently using the EHR, where they are getting stuck and where their actions deviate from prescribed workflows. Then, work with each department to determine where EHR functionality can be tweaked, workflows redesigned or a combination of both. Effective adoption requires a constant cycle of communication, design, training, evaluation, and redesign.

If you want to make sure your employees are happy with the EHR and physicians avoid burnout, go live is just the beginning.

Xerox is a sponsor of the Breakaway Thinking series of blog posts.