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6 ways to defeat physician fatigue – MedCity News

6 ways to defeat physician fatigue – MedCity News

Globally, shifting patient demographics, an aging population, a substantial proportion of patients with long-term diseases, and growing health-care expenses have put enormous strain on physicians and the health systems they serve (not to mention the impact of a worldwide pandemic!). Adding to this, the democratization of knowledge and increased accountability that come with changing patient and social expectations have increased the responsibilities placed on physicians. The dilemma of personnel shortages and low retention levels adds fuel to the fire. The result is waning doctor morale, with physicians contemplating leaving the medical field entirely.

This “physician fatigue” has become a critical issue for today’s healthcare industry. According to the industry journal, NEJM Catalyst, an overwhelming 96% of medical professionals agree that physician burnout is a serious issue. Exacerbating the problem, 42% of physicians are reluctant to seek mental health treatment; 42% isolated themselves in an attempt to deal with burnout; and 26% drink alcohol as a coping mechanism to numb their feelings, de-stress or to forget the things they have seen.

The problem also seems to have gender bias, with female physicians suffering even more. A MedScape study found that 51% of female physicians experience burnout, compared to 36% of men. This extends to the extreme issue of suicide deaths which are roughly 250 to 400% higher among female physicians compared to females in other occupations, according to eMedCert. This may potentially be impacted by a fear of a mental health stigma impacting their career. A Science Direct study found as many as 94% of female physicians with a mental health diagnosis don’t disclose it to their state licensing board.

It’s no surprise that physician fatigue also has a negative impact on a healthcare organization’s reputation and, as a result, its bottom line. Because of these conditions, many healthcare finance leaders may be reluctant to add any sort of operational burden to physicians’ plates, notably tasks related to enhanced coding, documentation and risk adjustment. It is difficult to expect overworked physicians to spend additional time documenting conditions and reporting data for value-based payment programs while also boosting daily patient quantities. However, a healthcare organization’s financial future is reliant on its ability to delicately balance and accomplish both tasks accurately. Healthcare organizations and physicians must work together to build long-term financial viability as the industry transitions from volume-based to value-based payment models.

This may all seem a bit “doom and gloom” for hospitals, however a number of actions can still be taken to make it better. Here are six ways healthcare providers can lighten the physician’s burden:

  1. Simplify standard coding and documenting practices for physicians. To get all physicians in agreement in terms of process and workflows is one of the challenges of developing a risk-adjustment strategy. Simplifying the process so that physicians can spend more time on care, and less time on paperwork will have incremental value to hospitals and patients alike.
  2. Ensure that physician compensation is in line with value-based care strategies. Paying physicians a base salary with a gain-share bonus based on value-based care success can demonstrate that executives understand the additional time and effort needed for enhanced coding and documentation.
  3. Enhance EHR performance to optimize the provider experience and patient care. Hierarchical condition categories, or HCCs, represent a picture of each beneficiary’s accuracy to successfully address costs for high-risk members while ensuring they receive high-quality care. Apply best practices for EHRs so that the organization receives appropriate and accurate payment.
  4. Endorse strategies that alleviate the administrative burden of risk adjustment. A health plan-sponsored initiative for primary care physicians (PCPs) that is convenient to use and offers assistance could combine cutting-edge technology with clinical and administrative resources allocated to medical practices. In value-based care arrangements, this endeavor can help participating health systems generate additional revenue, enhance outcomes, increase the number of preventative health visits, and improve overall performance.
  5. Assist healthcare workers in capturing and addressing social determinants of health (SDOH). Training clinical staff, offering access to local resources, establishing workflows, and encouraging standard practices that help ease the risk-adjustment process, such as assigning time during patient visits for these important conversations could all encourage successful SDOH-focused programs.
  6. Offload physician strain through technology-enabled telemedicine. Using telemedicine for night coverage or specialist care can enhance healthcare system profitability by reducing the need for full-time physician staffing. It can also empower staff physicians with greater access to work-life balance while still knowing patient outcomes will be effectively supported.

The pandemic placed an unfathomable burden on the country’s doctors. For years to come, we’ll be dissecting its implications. While much about the pandemic’s long-term impact is unknown, we do know that Covid-19’s sustained presence is still significantly afflicting many. New approaches, including technology innovation, process improvements and greater use of telemedicine need to be taken to overcome physician fatigue and ensure our health systems can deliver the experience and outcomes required by patients.

Photo: PeopleImages, Getty Images