Doctors Against Data Entry: Exploring Systems To Beat Physician Burnout

By Suvas Vajracharya, Ph.D., founder and CEO, Lightning Bolt Solutions.

Suvas Vajracharya

A staggering 96 percent of physicians are reporting that the amount of time they spend on data input has increased in the last 10 years, and 86 percent agree it’s robbing them of joy in their jobs, according to a recent survey by Geneia, a healthcare data analytics firm.

This report won’t come as news to the millions of physicians spending huge chunks of their days on clerical and administrative work, instead of the patient work for which they’ve studied and practiced many long years.

For healthcare leaders, it’s another indicator that despite a recent dip in physician burnout reported by the American Medical Association, there’s still work to be done. Eighty percent of respondents to Geneia’s survey indicated that they are personally at risk for burnout at some point in their career.

But it also presents an enormous opportunity, as the report reveals reducing data entry can be a crucial (and pretty realistic, given modern technology) step in retaining key physicians, as well as increasing operational accuracy and efficiency. Let’s get physicians away from data entry and back to practicing top of license.

What’s behind increased data entry requirements?

Before we look at solutions to reduce the data entry burden on physicians, it’s critical to know where the demand is coming from. Multiple factors contribute to this problem, including:

The ubiquity of EHR systems

The professed goal of EHR systems was to give physicians access to vital patient data and streamline billing and coding processes. All too often, however, doctors find themselves bogged down by data entry instead of caring for their patients. To save time, many physicians copy and paste clinical documentation from one record to the next, providing more opportunity for dangerous inaccuracies to slip into patient files.

Lack of integration

Healthcare providers today use multiple different systems to coordinate care, and more often than not, those systems don’t talk to each other. Building integrations between these systems takes a lot of time and resources, and it is especially taxing on IT teams already working through huge backlogs. In the meantime, who’s responsible for ensuring the right data goes into all the applicable systems? Overtired physicians who’d rather be doing anything else.

Lack of intelligent automation

Intelligent automation is making sea changes in virtually every industry. Smart organizations use AI to optimize the resources they already have, reduce waste, improve quality and consistency, and gain data-driven insights.

Healthcare still has a long way to go, with many opportunities to automate processes. Physician scheduling, for example, is still largely done by hand in spreadsheets or through basic scheduling software — from small groups to large enterprises.

Zooming in on physician scheduling

We don’t have time to dive deep into each individual factor contributing to the data entry burden here. With more than 20 years of experience looking deeply into intelligent automation for physician scheduling, I’ll focus on what I see in this key challenge.

I first became interested in the physician scheduling aspect of care coordination when a doctor friend approached me with a frustrating problem. He noticed that the seemingly simple task of creating call schedules for his group was deceptively complex, time consuming, and often proved an inaccurate science where equitable distribution of staffing resources, or the honoring of individual physician requests, would often conflict or simply could not be met.

That was in 1998. But the truth is, the way many groups and departments schedule physicians today hasn’t changed all that much. In fact, as patient demand increases across the globe and more variables come into play, physician scheduling has gotten even more complicated. Combine that complexity with insufficient software or staff to manage it, plus a lack of integration between key systems, and you’ve got yourself a data-entry crisis.

Let’s look at an example.

Say that in your facility, a typical schedule consists of 25 shifts per day. On the surface, that translates to just over 9,000 data entries per year.

But that’s assuming you got the schedule right the first time. It’s assuming that no unexpected schedule changes occur. Most physicians I’ve talked to end up creating multiple versions of the schedule before settling on one.

So let’s multiply those 9,000 data entries by three to factor in the multiple schedules — a conservative estimate. We’re getting close to 30,000. Then, we’ll need to enter that data in other places as well — a patient scheduling system and another central on-call schedule, at the least.

Scheduling challenges alone, from my experience, take an immense toll on the physicians responsible for coordinating them. That’s without even considering that many of the schedules we generate still aren’t good for doctors or patients because there are just too many variables for one person or basic software to consider.

This is all in just one area. The scale of the entire data entry problem is immense, and we’ll have to tackle it piece by piece — without losing sight of the big picture.

Doctors shouldn’t be data entry specialists

Tedious data entry is not a burden doctors, or any human, should have to bear in the age of sophisticated analytics and artificial intelligence. Where can healthcare leaders focus their attention to solve this problem?

We’re hearing every day how innovative technologies are changing the future of healthcare. But before we can achieve anything revolutionary, we have to make sure that we’re nailing the basics. Let’s give doctors the opportunity to be doctors again and let technology fill the gaps in patient care — not create them.

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