The issue of physician burnout has been steadily gaining attention, with more than 50% of physicians reporting at least one symptom of burnout. Interestingly, studies have shown that burnout does not affect all physicians in the same manner. Yes, female physicians tend to face higher rates of female physician burnout compared to their male counterparts. A research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that female physicians tend to spend more time on EHR-related work than their male counterparts. This phenomenon has raised questions about potential contributing factors and how to address this concerning trend.

Gender-based disparities in burnout rates

Gender-based disparities in burnout rates have become evident, particularly within the healthcare sector. Female physicians are more likely to experience burnout due to various factors, including their responsibilities for child care, household tasks, and work-life balance challenges. Additionally, issues such as gender discrimination, lower pay, and increased workload have further contributed to the higher prevalence of burnout among female physicians. Surveys have revealed that burnout rates can be 20% to 60% higher in female physicians compared to male physicians. According to Medscape’s annual physician lifestyle report 2018, 48% of female physicians reported feeling burnout as opposed to 38% of male physicians.

Is EHR usage a significant contributor to burnout?

One significant factor that may contribute to higher burnout rates in female physicians is their usage of Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Studies have shown that female physicians tend to spend more time on EHRs both during and after work hours compared to their male counterparts. Despite caring for fewer patients on average, female physicians spend more time documenting each patient’s story, leading to less pay and increased burnout. A study published in JAMA Network Open revealed that women physicians spend approximately 41 minutes more on EHR-related tasks per day during their average eight hours of scheduled patient time. Furthermore, they dedicate an additional 31 minutes a day to writing clinical notes and more than nine minutes on EHR activities outside of scheduled work hours.

Can virtual medical scribes help and what studies say?

To address the burden of EHR and mitigate burnout, implementing virtual medical scribes has emerged as a potential solution. Research has shown that medical scribes can significantly reduce the time spent on documentation and alleviate physician burnout. A qualitative study published in JAMIA Open highlighted how scribes reduce physician burnout by reducing the time spent on documentation. Similarly, a pediatric primary care practice conducted a single-center observational study encompassing three distinct phases: pre-scribe, scribe-assisted, and scribe-withheld. Notably, the research indicated a remarkable reduction of 3 minutes and 28 seconds in documentation time per patient, accompanied by a substantial decrease of 1.2 hours in physicians’ EHR engagement during clinic sessions. Furthermore, an academic family medicine clinic conducted a randomized controlled trial, alternating between weeks with and without medical scribes. The trial demonstrated that the use of medical scribes resulted in a significant decrease in documentation time and time spent in the EHR for physicians. Therefore, use of Virtual medical scribes appears to be a promising strategy to alleviate the clerical burden associated with EHRs and prevent physician burnout.

Given that women constitute more than a third of physicians and play a crucial role in the healthcare system, prioritizing the well-being of female physicians is vital for both their personal satisfaction and the quality of patient care. Solutions such as virtual medical scribes not only address the EHR documentation burden but also streamline workloads and improve overall efficiency, benefitting physicians and patients alike. By addressing the unique challenges faced by female physicians and implementing effective strategies, the healthcare community can work towards reducing burnout and promoting a more sustainable and fulfilling professional experience for all physicians.

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