Physician Wellness and the EHR Inbox

I just read and want to share a great article from Health Affairs entitled Physicians’ Well-Being Linked To In-Basket Messages Generated By Algorithms In Electronic Health Records. (I appreciate free open access education so 2 thumbs up to Health Affairs for offering this article FREE. Get the article here in PDF form)

As federal meaningful use regulations continue to shape how we deliver care, the impact of “desktop medicine” workload absolutely does have to be examined and I’m so glad this colleagues did just that! 

Study Breakdown

It was an observational study at a multi-specialty organization who was an early adopter of EPIC (in 1999 in fact) with 934 physicians responding (out of 1292, meaning 358 or 72%  opted to respond). They distributed a 5 question survey, examined in-box messages over a 6 week period and measured the time each doctor spent entering progress notes. Additional measures were response on more questions about being valued, work environment, control of their work and wellness practices. They did obtain sociodemographic info and the physician’s speciality.

My Pearls

—Before this study, only one other paper had been written on the role played by EHR on burnout

 (which was this one: Shanafelt TD, Dyrbye LN, Sinsky C, Hasan O, Satele D, Sloan J, et al. Relationship between clerical burden and characteristics of the electronic environment with physician burnout and professional satisfaction. Mayo Clin Proc. 2016;91(7): 836–48. 4 Friedberg M)

—Many of the organization’s physicians responded which I found to be amazing. In most wellness studies, less than 50% of organizations possible physicians respond so I was impressed.

—Their one question on burnout may have underestimate the level of burnout in this sample.

—They only measured the messages coming in and didn’t review those that were read or responded to. However, I would believe that each of those messages were read and dealt with appropriately by these docs.

—Average number of weekly in-basket messages: 243. Almost half (114) of these messages were system generated (ie pending orders automatically sent to the physician based on algorithm-driven health maintenance reminders, requests for prior authorizations, patient reminders, etc)

—Average number of patient messages: 30

—Average number of message from other physicians or members of the health team: 53

—Only 12% of physicians answered ‘Yes, completely true’ to “Physicians are highly valued.” Yikes!

—(Here’s the real kicker for me) 42% of doctors were above the average of these numbers BUT only 29% of these physicians reported working full time! Talk about a mismatch

—Female physicians reported lower life satisfaction than males counterparts.

—Family Medicine and Internal Medicine received disproportionately higher numbers of system generated messages. Though these type of messages are suppose to help with certain processes of care, the authors speculated that they could be contributing to the perceived and realized loss of autonomy


There’s more in this article but overall I found it hopeful in the fact that is brought to light evidence of what we as the physician community has been saying. Can I get an Amen?.

Join 3,552 other subscribers

Errin Weisman DO

Errin Weisman, DO is the self-proclaimed wellness guru on Authentic Medicine. She is a life coach, podcaster and fierce advocate for wellness in medicine. She faced professional burnout early in her career and speaks openly about her story in order to help others, particularly female physicians and working moms, know they are not alone. Dr. Weisman wholeheartedly believes to be a healer, you must first fill your own cup. She lives and practices life coaching and medicine in rural Southwestern Indiana, loves her roles as farmer’s wife, athlete and mother of three.You can find out more about Dr. Weisman on her podcast Doctor Me First, her website or hang out with her on social media @truthrxs. Her podcast is “Doctor Me First”. 

  3 comments for “Physician Wellness and the EHR Inbox

  1. kay hornbrook
    July 16, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    If I sit in one more “update” webinar and hear- “it’s ONLY 2 more clicks, and it ONLY adds 30 seconds to each encounter”… as far as I know, there is still ONLY 24 hours in a day!
    And now, my office manager has to justify my extra-hours log-ins to management… BUT, I’m supposed to increase my access to patients…
    AND school physicals are coming up…
    But I’m sure yoga and resilience training will help…

  2. stuart
    July 15, 2019 at 10:45 am

    If a practice has their EMR set up so that patient messages, pre-auths, etc. by-pass the nurses and go straight to the MDs – major problem.

    More thankful every day that we’re still on paper.

  3. Soccerdoc11
    July 14, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    Amen! But who is going to stop it? We can’t even streamline the systems we use. Why does it take 5 clicks to print a script on eCW once you have committed to this action? Multiply this by dozens of wasted actions each day over thousands of doctors…

Comments are closed.