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Mass. can help by streamlining doctors’ notes

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians in the United States by 2030. In a state where it is difficult enough to access care, we cannot afford to exacerbate these problems by wasting physicians’ time with clerical work that does nothing but exhaust them (“Report raises alarm on physician burnout,” Page A1, Jan. 17).

Massachusetts can alleviate the administrative burden weighing down physicians by reducing documentation standards in the electronic medical record, much of which are there just to appease state and insurance requirements.

Information that is irrelevant to a patient’s care and health outcomes makes a clinical note bloated and difficult to read. Fewer requirements doubly benefit patients: It frees up more face-to-face time for physicians to spend with them, and it ensures that medical notes are clear and concise, improving communication among providers and leading to better and more coordinated care.

Surely the state that redefined health care delivery can do so again by bringing joy back to medicine. The safety of our colleagues – and our patients – depends on it.

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Dr. Karim Awad

Medical director of clinician wellness

Atrius Health

Newton

Once concise and informative, discharge reports are now data dumps

Re “Doctor burnout is real. And it’s dangerous” by Drs. Alain Chaoui, Steven Defossez, and Michelle Williams (Opinion, Jan. 17): The strain of entering patient information into electronic health records, or EHRs, is cited among the several causes of physician burnout. For sure, the hand-eye coordination alone is a serious distraction.

But there is a side effect to using EHR that rarely is discussed. Physicians’ documents — discharge reports in particular — have lost their narrative quality. They are presented in computerized format, with different font sizes, and filled with as much information as the page can handle, much of it not really necessary.

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In the days when doctors would dictate their discharge summaries, these reports were concise and informative. They were only one or two pages, rarely three. They contained the diagnosis, the treatment, tests done, consultants involved, prognosis, and follow-up after leaving the hospital. Anyone reading the summary would have a clear idea of the patient’s hospitalization.

Today, however, computerized summaries are a hodgepodge of information that can fill as many as 20 pages. The beauty of the narrative has been replaced by a plethora of information that is distracting and mind-numbing — so much so that it can lead to medical errors.

If technology can produce cellphones that are as powerful as my laptop, they should be able to make electronic health records help doctors instead of increasing their burnout.

Dr. Edward Volpintesta

Bethel, Conn.

System, heal thyself — before rushing doctors into mental health care

I was amazed to see that one of the number one responses of high-level medical professionals to the issue of physician burnout is better access to mental health care for physicians. As a retired mental health care provider and social work professor, I am all for better access to mental health care. However, I am disturbed to see the medical profession or its representatives proposing an individual psychological solution to a systemic organizational problem. Would it not make more sense to address the issue of overwhelming paper and computer work generated in a complex insurance and regulatory system? That seems to be the root of the burnout, not psychological problems of individual physicians.

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Mandated wellness training would only increase the overload; a new administrative layer of wellness officers would only increase the cost of the system. Until the systemic problem is addressed, doctors won’t have the time to go to therapy.

Ann Fleck-Henderson

Cambridge

The writer is a professor emerita at Simmons College School of Social Work.

The solution is for doctors to have right technology

In her article “Report raises alarm on physician burnout,” Priyanka Dayal McCluskey spotlights the exhaustive documentation and data entry requirements that now typify the medical profession.

While we recognize that technology is part of the problem, the key to successful and effective application is selecting the right solution and the right vendor, provider, and/or partner.

Technology can truly offer value — modern biometrics, low-energy Bluetooth, proximity awareness, virtual desktops, and mobile solutions all show great promise for enhancing clinical workflows and productivity. Many of these approaches are already being used successfully today. However, tailoring the systems to health care is an absolute must.

Information technology vendors can help combat burnout in physicians and give them back additional hours in the day by working side by side with clinical partners and providing them with technology that not only is easy to use but also simplifies their workflow instead of complicating it.

As health care IT vendors, the best question we can ask, both of ourselves and of our clinical partners, is simply this: “How can we help you?”

Lives are at stake. The health care IT industry must rise to this critical challenge.

Dr. Sean Kelly

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Vice president and chief medical officer

Imprivata

Lexington

Imprivata is a health care technology company.