Easing the burdens of technology for doctors

Nele Jessel, chief medical officer of athenahealth, explains how health systems can help physicians.

Technology is supposed to ease the burdens on doctors, but many physicians don’t see it that way.

For some doctors, dealing with electronic health records or utilizing different types of technology add to their stress. Doctors have said dealing with administrative tasks is the top factor contributing to burnout, according to a Medscape survey released earlier this year.

Nele Jessel, chief medical officer at athenahealth, talked about burnout at the HIMSS 2022 Global Health Conference last month. She discussed ways to ease the burden of technology during a session and offered additional thoughts afterward with Chief Healthcare Executive.

“The first thing you can do to ease the technology burden on doctors is realize not every physician documents the same,” Jessel said. “We’re all different.” (The story continues after the video.)

Physicians can be flustered by technology, which adds to stress. Only about half of doctors (52%) said technology adds to their ability to deliver top-notch care, according to a 2001 athenahealth survey.

Many of those frustrations involve changes in technology, which can occur when healthcare systems are consolidated. Some are simply flummoxed by electronic health records, she said.

At the same time, it’s not good if physicians loathe their electronic health record systems.

While Jessel understands some physicians dislike electronic health records, she said, “The good old days of paper weren’t that great.”

“Have them view the EHR as just another tool in their arsenal,” Jessel said.

When healthcare systems switch systems or hire new physicians, it’s critical to allow time for proper training on the EHR systems. If health providers don’t offer sufficient training on electronic records systems and doctors don't understand how to use them, it just compounds all the deficiencies of paper, Jessel said.

Different physicians will use different types of technology for keeping records on their patients.

Jessel, a pediatrician, will type on her laptop with the patients and her parents.

“I like taking my computer into the exam room,” she said. With the computer, she can show growth charts to parents. And as she takes her notes, she’ll talk to the patient’s parents and explain what she is doing. “I say, ‘Did I get this right?’ And I involve them in the care," Jessel said.

On the flip side, using a dictation device during the exam wouldn’t work for her.

“I’m a pediatrician, so I can’t imagine utilizing ambient voice technology in an exam room with the kids running around and chiming in,” Jessel said. “The computer would get really confused.”

Conversely, Jessel said an orthopedic surgeon, with shorter appointments, probably wouldn’t want to bring in a laptop and type with the patients in the room. A voice recognition system would work better in that situation.

Healthcare organizations should invest in technology that improves the flow of information and gives doctors the data they need at the point of care, Jessel said. She also said health systems need to figure out ways to reduce administrative burdens on patients.

“Physicians went into medicine to take care of patients,” said Jessel. "They did not go into medicine to do an administrative job.”

Some healthcare leaders have urged health systems to adopt automation technologies that can reduce the time and energy spent on administrative tasks, such as seeking prior authorization for certain services.

Ultimately, health systems need to work with their doctors to find the technology solutions that work for their areas of practice.

“It’s about giving physician options and giving them options that work well for their style of medicine, rather than forcing them to adopt their style of medicine to the technology,” Jessel said.