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Can Smart Technology Help Combat a Physician Shortage?

A new Mayo Clinic study presents some alarming findings for the healthcare world. It predicts that one in five physicians plan to leave medicine completely, and even more plan to reduce their hours or change course into a career track that is non-patient care based. The Mayo Clinic conducted this study with 20,665 respondents at a total of 124 institutions. The American Medical Association (AMA) goes even further with its predictions, foreseeing something like 125,000 fewer doctors within 12 years. Can telehealth be a solution?

Physician Burnout

The worsening physician shortage, mostly attributed to burnout, is for several reasons. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) attributes it to overwork and a demanding pace, time pressures, emotional intensity, and a long-term stress reaction after COVID-19. However, even prior to the pandemic years, medical practice has changed tremendously, with the expectation to see more and more patients while dealing with an even heavier documentation burden.

Besides the obvious consequences of fewer physicians like longer wait times and less time per visit, the shortage has a severe financial fallout. The AMA finds that primary care physician (PCP) turnover leads to an annual $979 million in excess healthcare spending. The financial breakdown reveals some powerful insights like these:

  • Medicare patients who lose their primary care physician have increased use of specialty, urgent, and emergency care in the following year, to the tune of an average of $189 per beneficiary.
  • Physician turnover frequently results in reduced patient satisfaction, lower quality of care, and medical errors – all with value-based care impact and associated financial consequences.

On top of the $979 million in excess healthcare spending, the AMA nearly $5 billion in costs to payers and healthcare organizations as a result of burnout. Vacant positions, costs associated with replacing physicians, and reduced productivity all factor into this total.

Creating Resources and Support

In an interview with Marlene McDermott, licensed therapist and telepsychiatry provider, Healthcare IT News explores technology solutions to help alleviate physician burnout. McDermott contends that telehealth could partially be healthcare’s answer to staunch the flow of burnout-related resignations. McDermott does caution that with telehealth solutions, physician experience and the burdensome amount of administrative work expected need to be supported, while patient-provider time should be protected. The issue of administrative work keeping physicians away from seeing patients has been a dissatisfier for a long time, and needs to be a focus to prevent further burnout.

As more telehealth solutions are implemented, which allows providers to see more patients each day – an effort to automate workflows as much as possible can help reduce administrative burden. McDermott recommends fully supporting clinicians with a technology team, as well as clinical and administrative resources, allowing providers to focus on their area of expertise and provide high-quality care. Another strategy is to check in with clinicians periodically about their work schedule, time management, and overall happiness.

FormDr supports clinicians with HIPAA-compliant forms that provide key information prior to telehealth visits. Patients can easily complete their intake packet ahead of time, from a phone, tablet, or computer. This gives the provider a complete picture of the patient’s condition, history, medications, and more – as well as meeting regulatory requirements. With select EMR integrations, some information can even flow into documentation, saving time and clicks.

For a complete list of FormDr features and templates, take a look at the full list here, or schedule a personalized demo.