From the Journals

Quantifying the EHR connection to burnout



While plenty of anecdotal and other evidence exists to connect the use of electronic health records to physician burnout, new research puts a more standard, quantifiable measure to it in an effort to help measure progress in improving the usability of EHRs.

frustrated physician at computer Leah-Anne Thompson/Thinkstock

Researchers used the System Usability Scale (SUS), “favored as an industry standard as a short, simple, and reliable measurement of technology usability with solid benchmarks to easily interpret its results, as the measure in this research, Edward Melnick, MD, of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., and colleagues wrote in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

“The previous studies have definitely hinted at [the link between EHRs and burnout], but never really quantified it,” Dr. Melnick said in an interview.

Among the 870 physicians evaluating their EHRs’ usability, the mean score on a scale of 0-100 (higher being more usable) was 45.9. As a point of comparison, Microsoft Excel has an SUS score of 57, digital video recorders score 74, Amazon scores 82, microwave ovens score 87, and Google search scores 93.

“A score of 45.9 is in the bottom 9% of usability scores across studies in other industries and is categorized as in the ‘not acceptable’ range with a grade of F,” the authors wrote. “In aggregate, 733 of 870 (84.2%) of respondents rated their EHR less than 68 on the SUS, the average score across industries.”

In tying the SUS results to burnout, which was measured using the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the authors noted that the scores “were strongly and independently associated with physician burnout in a dose-response relationship. The odds of burnout were lower for each 1 point more favorable SUS score, a finding that persisted after adjusting for an extensive array of other personal and professional characteristics. The relationship between SUS score and burnout also persisted when emotional exhaustion and depersonalization were treated as continuous variables.”

The authors did note that, despite the strong relationship, they could not determine a causation given the cross-sectional nature of the data.

“I’m hoping that this paper will spark conversation and drive change and be a way of tracking improvements,” Dr. Melnick said. “So, if you bring in something new and say this is going to be better, how do you know it is going to be better? Well maybe you measure it using the System Usability Scale” to give it a quantifiable measure of improvement. He said it is an advantage “of having a metric that has been standardized and used in other industries,” allowing EHR stakeholders to measure improvement. “Once you can measure it, you can manage it and make improvements faster.”

The findings “will not come as a surprise to anyone who practices medicine,” Patrice Harris, MD, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement. “It is a national imperative to overhaul the design and use of EHRs and reframe the technology to focus primarily on its most critical function: helping physicians care for patients. Significantly enhancing EHR usability is key and the AMA is working to ensure a new generation of EHRs are designed to prioritize time with patients, rather than overload physicians with type-and-click tasks.”

Funding for the study was provided by the Stanford Medicine WebMD Center, AMA, and the Mayo Clinic Department of Medicine Program on Physician Well-Being. No conflicts of interest were reported by the authors.

SOURCE: Melnick E et al. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2019 Nov 14. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2019.09.024.

Next Article: