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Telehealth – Reducing Physician Burnout

Posted by Michael Greiwe, MD | September 26, 2018 |
Michael Greiwe, MD

We need to work smarter. The American physician is struggling with high stress, high workloads, and high burnout.

We have some statistics that may shock you. If you haven’t seen Medscape’s 2018 National Physician Burnout and Depression Report, here’s the reality of our work world today:

  • 42% of physicians say they are burned out.
  • Another 12% say they are depressed.
  • No surprise; critical care docs are most burnt out, but 34% of orthopedists say the same and even 23% of plastic surgeons. Family medicine docs are struggling, too.
  • The percentages are the same whether the doctor is employed or independent.

National Public Radio published a story earlier this year that showed doctors are committing suicide at a rate twice that of the general public.

What is happening in our profession that so many doctors are struggling? How can a technology like telemedicine help improve the lives of the clinicians that are so crucial to the health of our nation?

The American Medical Practice

Many doctors are feeling increasing pressure. Declining reimbursement, increasing regulation, and higher overhead has combined to create an environment of almost-constant stress for many American physicians. Physicians Weekly suggests:

Doctors feel they can’t make the best use of their time, that they lack
the autonomy to provide the best care for their patients, and
that they are being rushed in order to maintain
their organization’s profitability.

It’s an ugly situation that is being exacerbated by a physician shortage. Not only are doctors struggling with work/life balance today because of their current workload, by 2025, the physician shortage will also kick into high gear. That’s right around the time the baby boomers get old enough to put even more strain on our workload.

bigstock-Burnout-Word-On-Notebook-steth-172094153

For the employed physician, health systems have begun noticing the strain. An article in NeuroNews says:

Experts argue that physician burnout is best combated by shared responsibility between healthcare systems and by individual physicians. Fair compensation, development of shared schedules, hiring of non-physician providers for clerical responsibilities, and improved efficiency with elective schedules are potential avenues to reduce the risk of burnout.

But this does nothing for the private practice physician who struggles not only with the professional bureaucracy inherent in healthcare, but also with the worries that come from running a small to mid-size business.

Can Telemedicine Help?

“This is a very serious issue with effects that will ripple throughout society, and it warrants widespread, earnest attention. The solution, though, does not lie in incentivizing physicians with money or restructuring systems to minimize stress on physicians -- it lies in finding earnest professional fulfillment.”
The Atlantic

One thing is clear – something must be done.

The Medscape Physician Burnout Report asked doctors what they felt should change to help reduce their burnout. They said:

  • Increased compensation.
  • More manageable work schedule.
  • Greater schedule flexibility.

Ironically, these are three of the proven benefits that come with initiating a telehealth program in your practice.

The OrthoLive blogs have been focusing for the past few months on telehealth’s benefits for patients. But what about the real ways telemedicine can improve the lives of physicians no matter their specialty or where they practice? We’ve come up with some examples of how telemedicine can lighten the workload of doctor’s and improve their work/life balance:

  • First, the Medscape report suggested that doctors think their burnout would lessen if they just had a more manageable work schedule. The pressures of patient demand and on-call hours are pushing many doctors to the edge of their endurance. But telemedicine visits are conducted more quickly while still improving the quality of care. In fact, studies show that patient satisfaction scores remain as high with a telemedicine visit as they do with the traditional in-person exam.
  • Increased compensation is a key metric tied to the quality of life for physicians. Telehealth visits actually cut overhead costs by about half when compared to an on-site visit. However, these visits are tied to higher patient quality scores, which can mean higher compensation, particularly under value-based care. Finally, the telehealth visit typically takes less time, which means you can increase the volume of patients you see each day.
  • Telehealth can increase physician autonomy by allowing them to see patients via remote consult when and where they want. The practice of telemedicine can help reduce the burden of chronic disease management for patients and their doctors. It can also increase access to care for your patients. This allows doctors to provide more consistent and dedicated care.

We talk often about how telehealth can save patients money by reducing the time and cost of traveling to a doctor visit. But for doctors, telehealth can allow them to set up a practice in their home office and also save them the frustrations of traffic, parking, and other stresses associated with the commute to a practice.

Telehealth and Schedule Management

We know that telemedicine is not a cure-all; it does not work for all patients or for all physicians for that matter. But this technology is proven and has ample metrics that show real clinical and workflow benefit for all kinds of medical specialties.

Doctors struggling with their current workflows should stop for a moment and ask themselves if their work-life balance would improve if:

  • They could decrease the amount of time spent per patient encounter;
  • While increasing patient volumes;
  • And reducing overhead costs;
  • While still improving the quality of patient care and caring.

If OrthoLive could show you how to use telemedicine to do all of these things, wouldn’t it be worth the time to talk about how this technology could actually improve your life and the lives of your patients?

If you are a physician struggling with burnout, there are resources to help you. Changing workflows in your practice is just one way to improve the amount of time you spend with your loved ones and get your life back.

Telehealth is one tool we’ve seen used to effectively manage and increase work/life balance for clinical and administrative teams.

Contact OrthoLive for a complimentary demo of our HIPAA-compliant telehealth subscription service. Our mission is to help you succeed in the business of medicine.

Topics: "telehealth", "telemedicine", healthcare, 2018 trends, physician, burnout

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