Most doctors worn down by problems with sharing data

An athenahealth survey found most physicians say the inability to easily exchange information adds to their stress levels.

At a time when burnout in healthcare is gaining so much attention, doctors continue to endure additional stress in exchanging information through electronic health record systems, according to a new poll from athenahealth.

Four out of five doctors (80%) say the inability to easily share data between information systems adds to their stress levels, according to athenahealth’s annual Physician Sentiment Survey, which was released June 9. Based in Massachusetts, athenahealth provides software and services, including electronic health records, for health systems and medical groups around the country.

Doctors are experiencing headaches in exchanging information with others using different health record systems, the survey indicated.

Two out of three physicians (66%) said it was easy to send and receive patient information to another provider using their electronic health record network. However, only one in four (24%) said it was easy to send and get patient data from another provider using a different health record system.

The survey underscores the need to make it easier for doctors and healthcare providers to exchange information, which will reduce stress on providers and serve patients better, said Jessica Sweeney-Platt, athenahealth’s vice president of research and editorial strategy.

“It’s not enough just to send information back and forth between places,” Sweeney-Platt told Chief Healthcare Executive in a recent interview.

“It has to be in the right place in the right workflow,” she said.

Administrative tasks and burnout

Other studies have found that administrative tasks are punishing doctors.

A Medscape survey of doctors in January 2022 found the bureaucratic aspects of healthcare emerged as the top factor contributing to burnout. Even the COVID-19 pandemic took a backseat to bureaucratic stress, the survey found.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory urging health systems to address burnout, because it’s contributing to the shortage of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. Some of his recommendations included improving workflows and easing administrative burdens on healthcare workers.

The advisory comes following numerous reports indicating that some doctors and nurses, after dealing with burnout and the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, are planning to walk away.

“We’re seeing a real reflection of the current moment of the staffing crisis and the burden of administrative work,” Sweeney-Platt said.

At the same time, studies have shown healthcare workers are less likely to leave their jobs if they feel valued or if they feel organizations are paying attention to their needs. “When organizations do take steps to reduce burnout, that has a real impact,” Sweeney-Platt said.

Problems of quality, not quantity

The healthcare industry has been moving toward interoperability, which is the easy exchange of information between health systems, clinicians, payers and patients. It’s been a goal for years, but the government is pushing the healthcare industry to make interoperability a reality. Federal officials have said they are going to take action against providers that aren’t sharing information.

Physicians participating in the survey cited several obstacles to improving connectivity. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of doctors pointed to a lack of coordination between different health systems or other facilities in their systems, while 59% of respondents pointed to cost, and 57% of participants noted a lack of data standardization.

For many physicians, the problem is the quality, rather than the quantity, of the information available. “I don’t think anyone is saying there’s a shortage of information,” Sweeney-Platt said.

“What we need to work towards is making sure that the information is usable and curated in the way the physician and clinical team member prefers,” she said.

For example, if doctors get a patient record in a PDF that appears in a separate part of the application, that’s not as helpful as if it’s on the screen or in a workflow that’s convenient for the clinician.

Still, doctors are optimistic about the potential benefits of the easier electronic exchange of health information, the survey showed. Nine in 10 doctors (94%) said better connectivity can improve patient outcomes, while 91% of respondents said it would improve the overall physician experience.

Doctors also indicated they expect the sharing of patient information to become easier in the near future.

“Physicians are optimistic there will be a better connected healthcare ecosystem within the span of their careers,” Sweeney-Platt said. “That actually was a surprise.”

She added that the promise of artificial intelligence and machine learning is that systems can learn the preferences of users and help clinicians get the right information in the right way.

While the sharing of electronic records must improve, few doctors are longing for the days of paper records, Sweeney-Platt noted.

“We’ve come a long way over the last decade,” she said. “People are starting to see the additive benefits of technology.”

More from Chief Healthcare Executive

Nele Jessel, athenahealth’s chief medical officer, talked about easing the burdens of technology on doctors at the HIMSS 2022 conference in March. Check out some of her suggestions in a brief video from Chief Healthcare Executive.