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MACRA Fallout and Physician Burnout – MACRA Monday

Posted on October 24, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

I’ve been traveling the past week and still haven’t had time to fully process the MACRA final rule. In fact, it might take me a few weeks to really get things together around what’s in the final rule. It’s better that I take my time and make sure I provide you accurate information than to post early and perpetuate bad information. So, I appreciate your patience.

In the mean time, we’ll still continue on with MACRA Monday talking about some of the impact of the MACRA rule and interesting comments on what’s happening with MACRA. Today I wanted to highlight the vitriol I’ve seen online by many physicians towards MACRA. It’s been pretty ugly.

If I’m being fair to MACRA, most of the hatred has to do with the wave of government regulations and the changes happening across all of healthcare and not just MACRA. In many cases, it just seems that MACRA is the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. However, I’ve seen first-hand from more physicians than I can count, a real anger towards MACRA.

I do temper these experiences with the fact that so many physicians barely even know that MACRA exits. That’s not true for the ones complaining on social media, but it definitely feels like even many of those doctors barely realize what is in MACRA (with a few notable exceptions). Instead of specific complaints, they are mostly general complaints about government regulation.

Sadly, I think it kind of reminds me of my experience talking with my 12-year-old son. He’s at the stage of life where no matter what I say as a father he wants to say the opposite. I can literally say something nice to him like “You’re smart” and without even thinking about what I said he’ll knee jerk react “No, I’m not.” It makes no sense and is absolutely frustrating as a parent.

My guess is this is how the people at CMS feel when they hear doctors talking about MACRA. If MACRA was just free government money with no work, my gut is that many doctors would say it’s awful without even looking at the details. Doctors are so burnt out on government regulation that they denounce it without as much as a second thought.

Given some of the past track record, doctors have good reason to react the way they do. Can you point to very many places where meaningful use made a doctor’s life better? There are quite a few general EHR benefits, but very few specific meaningful use benefits. In fact, you can make a strong case that meaningful use added a lot of overhead and almost no value to patients or doctors. Given that, should we be surprised that doctors are afraid of more government regulation?

I’m not surprised, but with that said I also don’t think that MACRA will be the disaster that many make it out to be. In fact, I think it’s an extension of business as usual. This is particularly true in the first year of MACRA where almost no one will get penalized thanks to the MACRA Pick Your Pace options. We’ll see if that creates a pileup in future years.

I’m torn since I think we’re entering one of the most exciting times to be in healthcare. The technologies that are hitting healthcare are quite extraordinary. What we’ll be able to do with the data we’re collecting and will be able to collect in healthcare is going to surprise us all. However, on the other hand regulations are creating a burden on providers that is causing what could be irreparable harm.

Reminds me of that famous line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Be sure to check out all of our MACRA Monday blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

Yet Another Study Says EMRs Contribute to Physician Burnout

Posted on September 21, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A Mayo Clinic study recently concluded that – surprise, surprise – that physicians who used EMRs were less likely to be satisfied with the amount of time spent on clerical tasks. But from where I sit, while the story certainly deserves attention, it’s also worth considering how this fits into the problem of physician burnout on the whole.

First, let’s review the study itself. To conduct the study, which appeared in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers connected with 6,375 physicians in active practice, 5,389 of which (84.5%) reported using EMRs. Meanwhile, of 5,892 physicians who said that CPOE was relevant to their practice specialty, 4,858 (82.5%) said they used CPOE technology.

Researchers concluded that physicians who use EMRs and CPOE had lower satisfaction with time spent in clerical tasks and higher rates of burnout, including when the data was adjusted for age, sex, specialty, practice setting and hours worked per week. The bottom line, researchers said, was that this large national study demonstrated that satisfaction with EMRs and CPOE was generally low.

Now let’s take a look at the big picture on physician burnout. One comprehensive take comes from the American Academy of Family Physicians, whose position paper on the subject includes the following definition of burnout: “A syndrome characterized by a loss of enthusiasm for work (emotional exhaustion), feeling of cynicism (depersonalization), and a low sense of personal accomplishment.”

The AAFP paper, which points out that the phenomenon has been studied for decades, notes that 45.8% physicians are considered to be experiencing at least one symptom of burnout. According to a recent broad-based study, that there is currently a 35.2% overall burnout rate among U.S. physicians.

According to research cited by the AAFP, there’s still no definitive data on what causes physician burnout, but notes that common drivers of family physician burnout include paperwork, feeling undervalued, frustration referral networks, difficult patients, medicolegal issues, and challenges in finding work-life balance.

While I don’t want to minimize the impact that a badly-designed EMR can have a negative impact on a physician’s practice, or underplay the findings of the Mayo study cited above, I think it’s worth noting that the group doesn’t cite EMRs as a specific cause of burnout.

Clearly, physicians don’t like using EMRs for administrative work — and it even appears that they would rather use paper to handle such chores. However, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that doctors loved documenting on paper either. Complaints about not wanting to finish their charts were common in the paper world too.

And the truth is, as EMRs have gradually shifted from being vehicles to support billing to richer clinical documentation and support tools, it may very well have become harder to use them for routine administrative tasks. Vendors probably need to reconsider yet again the balance between clinical and administrative features, and how effective both are.

That being said, I think it’s important not to forget that physicians are facing many, many challenges, most of which began grinding away at their independence and self-respect well before EMRs became an established part of the picture.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that for some physicians, feeling forced to adopt an EMR has proven to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. And they certainly deserve a hearing. But if in the process, we allow ourselves to lose sight of the countless other problems physicians are struggling with, we are doing them a disservice. Addressing physicians’ EMR issues won’t fix everything that’s broken here.

Physician Burnout

Posted on July 26, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

At the HIMSS Annual conference, I talked with Vishal Gandhi, CEO of ClinicSpectrum, about a popular topic at the conference and well beyond: Physician Burnout. You can watch the full video interview I did with Vishal below:

Physician Burnout is such an important topic and I love that Vishal commented that physician satisfaction (the remedy to burnout) is good patient care and an appropriate reward. As it is today, the trend is to ask doctors to compromise good patient care and we’re paying them less in the process. Is there any wonder why physician burnout is so rampant?

Vishal also commented that healthcare technology is used more for documentation than patient care. He argued that the tech piece has focused far too much on documentation as opposed to focusing on the patient. I’d argue that if we focused the tech on the patient, doctors would appreciate technology much more and would be less burnt out.

Finally, I’m always interested to hear what non-EHR technologies Vishal and ClinicSpectrum have launched to make a practice more efficient and profitable. He outlines a bunch of them in the video above. Take a listen and see if some of them can make your life easier and your practice more profitable. It’s time we start considering technology outside the EHR that can make a practice better.

Physician Burnout Graphic

Posted on June 3, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

This was a really impactful graphic that seemed perfect for a Friday post on Physician Burnout:
Physician Burn Out Graphic

Thanks Rasu for sharing it.

Here’s the list of physician burnout items for those following along at home:

  • Patient Generated Data
  • Quality Metrics
  • Other Health Professionals
  • Telemedicine
  • Lack of Genomic Knowledge
  • Reimbursement
  • Retail Based Clinics
  • EHR Frustration
  • Transparency Office Notes
  • Algorithms
  • Super and Cloud Computing
  • Scorecards
  • Online Health Social Networks
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Online Reviews; Getting Yelped
  • Relative Value Units

Was there something left off the list? Do we really need to add any more to the list to understand why physicians are getting burnt out? Do you see any relief on the horizon?

Halamka Ponders The Need to Leave Medicine If We Continue Our Current Trajectory

Posted on May 5, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The famous Dr. John Halamka, Hospital CIO, Doctor, Former member of the HIT Policy committee, blogger at Life as a Healthcare CIO, recently read the 962 page MACRA NPRM and he wrote up a detailed look at the IT elements of MACRA. The post is worth a read if you’re interested in MACRA. Especially if you don’t want to spend the 20 hours reading it that he spent.

MACRA aside, he ends his post with this bombshell of a comment:

As a practicing clinician for 30 years, I can honestly say that it’s time to leave the profession if we stay on the current trajectory.

A doctor in the comments shared a similar view to Dr. Halamka:

Wow, I feel exactly the same as you do. As a front line ortho provider in a small group. I think now I get the message. CMS and ONC wants us out of private practice, either retire, or join as a salaried doc or hospital employee. That is the only justification for this 1000 page nightmare.

We’ve written a lot about physician burnout and many doctors distaste of all this government regulation, but having someone like John Halamka comment like this is quite telling. What’s scary for me is that I don’t see much light at the end of the MACRA tunnel from a physician perspective. Do you?

Why Wouldn’t Doctors Be Happy?

Posted on January 13, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Imagine someone comes to your job and tells you that if you didn’t start participating in a bunch of government programs then you’re going to get a 9% pay cut. Plus, those government programs add little value to the work you do and it’s going to cost you time and money to meet the government requirements. How would you feel?

To add on top of that, we’re going to create a new system for how you’re going to get paid too. In fact, it’s actually going to be two new systems. One that applies to the old system of payment (which has been declining for years) and a new one which isn’t well defined yet.

Also, to add to the fun, you’re going to have become a collection agency as well since your usual A/R is going to go up as your payment portfolio changes from large reliable payers to a wide variety of small, less reliable people.

I forgot to mention that in order to get access to these new government programs and avoid the penalties you’re going to have to likely use technology built in the 80’s. Yes, that means that it’s built before we even knew what the cloud or mobile was going to be and used advanced technologies like MUMPS.

In case you missed the connection, I’m describing the life of a doctor today. The 9% penalties have arrived. ICD-10 is upon us. ACOs and value based reimbursement is starting, but is not well defined yet. High deductible plans are shifting physician A/R from payers to patients. EHR software still generally doesn’t leverage technologies like the cloud and mobile devices.

All of this makes for the perfect storm. Is it any wonder physician dissatisfaction is at an all time high? It’s not to me. It seems like even CMS’ Andy Slavitt finally realized it with the announcement that meaningful use is dead and going to be replaced. It’s a good first step, but the devil is in the details. I hope he’s able to execute, but let’s not be surprised that so many doctors are unhappy about what’s happening to healthcare.

Hard Doc’s Life – Fun Friday Video

Posted on July 31, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

We’ve regularly written about physician burnout and physicians’ frustration with EHR software. It’s a real issue that needs to be dealt with on so many levels. So, it seems appropriate for this Fun Friday post to share a video ZDoggMD posted from the Wisconsin Med Society where ZDoggMD pulls out a live performance of a Hard Doc’s Life. Enjoy the video below:

Tell us about your Hard Doc’s Life in the comments.

Combating Physician Burnout – Let’s Stop Treating Physicians Like Factory Workers

Posted on July 1, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Have you ever seen the Love Medicine Again website? I hadn’t either until yesterday, but it says something that someone would need to create a website like that in the first place. Many doctors are quite unhappy with their life as a doctor and where medicine is heading. I actually came across this website thanks to their article titled “5 Ways to Use Creativity to Combat Physician Burnout.” Here’s the 5 suggestions they make to put creativity to work to reduce physician burnout:

  1. Allow your staff to help you with your schedule
  2. Voice your concerns about something that isn’t working to your colleagues
  3. Give credit where credit is due
  4. Engage your patients to help you help them
  5. Think outside of the box about how to bring improved satisfaction to your job

I wasn’t that impressed with the list. It seems to gloss over the core of what’s burning physicians out. I do love the idea of providing opportunities for physicians to be creative. That has definitely been pushed to the side in many offices.

One of the most common complaints I hear from doctors is “Stop making me be a data entry clerk.” I think this was largely true in the paper world, but it has been made even more so in the world of EHR thanks to things like meaningful use that require a lot of hoop jumping and box clicking to comply. We could certainly do more to make the data entry work easier, but that still just masks the problems.

I think that doctors saying they don’t want to be a data entry clerk is really a proxy for “I want to be creative and thoughtful in how I approach medicine. I don’t have time to be creative.”

The 15 minute (or less) per appointment hits this same pain point. Doctors want to get paid and so they feel the economic reality is that they need to see as many patients as possible. This economic reality leaves no time for doctors to be creative. I think they feel more like factory workers than highly educated leaders.

If we want to solve the physician burnout problem we need to find ways to tap into a physician’s creativity. We need to free them up for churning out patients so they can leverage all their education and experience to solve the larger problems of healthcare. It’s not very often that overworked factory workers are able to solve massive problems. They’re too busy working to think about the larger context. We need to stop treating our doctors like factory workers to solve healthcare’s larger problems.

Physician Bandwidth is Tapped Out

Posted on October 2, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

As I look at the healthcare industry, I run into a lot of doctors that are totally fed up with the healthcare system and where it’s headed. They’ve basically reached a point where they’ve run out of bandwidth and many are ready to tap out.

I’d be less concerned with this trend if I didn’t see it across the whole spectrum of doctors. The older doctors are crying for the “good ole days” when it was fun for them to practice medicine. The middle aged doctors are trying to figure out if they have enough time to make a bunch of career changes or if they need to grind it out until retirement. The new doctors enter the workforce not realizing how screwed up the business of medicine has become. No doubt, every new doctor since the start of time has been blown away by the business of medicine, but never to the extent that we see today.

A lot of people like to point to EHR software as the real problem with physician dissatisfaction. I’ve seen some of the EHR implementations out there, and there is plenty for them to complain about when it comes to EHR. However, I think far too often the EHR takes the blame for all the other healthcare regulations that it’s required to implement. The EHR is just the messenger and it’s much easier to blame the messenger.

Think about some of the insane reimbursement requirements that exist in healthcare. Is the EHR the reason that these are so terrible. No. In fact, if the EHR didn’t have to worry about reimbursement, it would make for a much simpler workflow. HIPAA is another example. While I think HIPAA is often inappropriately used as an excuse for an organization not to do something, it does add some overhead to the work a doctor does.

Of course, we can’t talk about this without bringing up the overhead that meaningful use adds to an EHR system. Yesterday I commented that it was meaningful use that has required so much more physician time. That’s not the EHR’s fault.

Layer in things like medical malpractice risk, changing patient populations, etc etc etc to everything listed above and it’s a really trying time for a doctor practicing medicine. The single best thing we could do to change this situation would be to simplify healthcare. Unfortunately, I see almost nothing out there that’s heading this direction. In fact, I see the potential for it to get even more complex (see ACOs).

Has EHR software and the move away from paper to digital charts caused some physician stress? Absolutely! Is it the only reason physician bandwith’s tapped out? Definitely not. Props to all the physicians out there that are grinding through this mess and still provide amazing patient care. Knowing how many great physicians there are out there gives me some hope that we’ll find ways to improve the situation.