The Power of Analytics in Diagnosing Physician Burnout

by | Jul 10, 2018 | Healthcare

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The amount of data in the healthcare industry is rapidly expanding. “Big Data” is a buzzword that now seems like an understatement. “Colossal Data” may be more appropriate. The U.S. healthcare system will soon be measured in zettabytes, one of which is equivalent to 1 trillion gigabytes. If distributed evenly, this would translate to around 18 completely full iPhones per U.S. citizen.

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For a hospital’s financial team, there are two methods to deal with this mountain of financial information: individual reports and data analytics. The former can offer information on the broadest aspects of the hospital’s revenue stream, like days in A/R or denials, but this method lacks the strength to sift through the smaller, more targeted reports. Analytics, on the other hand, can find valuable insights from all aspects of the revenue cycle. One problem that analytics can help detect is physician burnout.

What is physician burnout?

In a healthcare environment moving more and more towards value-based reimbursement, doctors are being forced to wear many hats. The inevitable implementation of electronic health records (EHRs) in hospitals was a value-based initiative that has forced doctors to be both caregiver and clerical worker.  The added stress of this dual role has led to a serious and growing problem within the national healthcare system: physician burnout. The increasing amount of clerical work for physicians has led to disillusionment with the job. Paperwork has shifted from a small but necessary evil to the majority of a physician’s daily schedule. As Greg Slabodkin of Health Data Management explains, the increase in paperwork means, “for every hour physicians spend on direct patient care, they spend two hours on EHR data entry and other administrative tasks.”

Less time spent with patients means doctors are going home unfulfilled by their work. This can have serious consequences such as depression, depersonalization, and a toxic work environment within the hospital. These personnel issues manifest themselves writ large in lower patient satisfaction, greater risk of physician error, and decreased revenue as doctors fail to enter information correctly into their dreaded EMRs. Physician burnout may seem sensationalized, but it is very common. In fact, a 2016 study by the Mayo Clinic found that a staggering 54% of physicians were experiencing at least one symptom of burnout.
Physician error in data entry is costly, to the tune of millions of dollars each year. And the problem is getting worse as “Big Data” gets bigger. The problem of physician burnout is complex, and there is no “one answer” to solving it, but analytics could help ease the effects.

How analytics can help

A revenue cycle analytics tool combines data from disparate sources of your revenue stream into one application to provide deeper insights throughout the payment cycle. One of the benefits of such a tool is that it gives hospitals the capability of foresight and allows them to make informed employee decisions quickly. Like many mental ailments, doctor burnout is very hard to spot. However, because burnout often stems from EHRs and causes decreased focus and drive, the effects of burnout can sometimes be spotted through EHR errors.

Revenue cycle analytics solutions provide easy-to-read dashboards that depict trends in financial data. This makes outlier detection simple. Once the area of concern – surgery, for example – is seen, an administrator can dive deeper into the data to find which specific surgeons have been entering data incorrectly. The hospital can then dig deeper to determine the root cause of errors, figuring out if it is that the physician does not know how to enter information correctly or whether there is another issue, such as burnout. If it is a burnout issue, the hospital can then act and offer solutions such as counseling, paid lunches, or shortened hours. HR could further see which areas of the hospital lead to the most burnout and implement morale-boosting strategies to snuff out issues before they occur.

These solutions have far reaching benefits. On a human level, analytics can give a window into a problem that few doctors share willingly. There is still a stigma around mental health, especially in a profession that values toughness in the face of draining and strenuous hours. Furthermore, detection of doctor burnout can improve the wellbeing of both doctor and patient, as physician error would decrease and job enthusiasm would increase.

More engaged doctors also lead to more accurate data entry into EHRs which saves the hospital large sums of dollars that would otherwise slip through the cracks. All of these improvements are even more vital in a value-based reimbursement model as hospitals strive for better care at a lower cost. Physician burnout is a data point that could go unseen in an analytics-deprived environment and the cost of that oversight is getting larger as hospitals move closer to value-based reimbursement.

Teddy Craven

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