Practice Notes

What NBC's latest medical drama tells us about physician burnout

by Rachel Woods and Hamza Hasan

Editor's note: This story was updated on October 19, 2018.

We've all seen our fair share of medical dramas hit the silver screen. And each time a new health care-related show premiers, it's hard for us in the medical field to match the drama of television with the reality of practicing medicine today.

But when I first saw commercials for NBC's new medical drama "New Amsterdam," I didn't see the same focus on plotlines like unrealistic medical emergencies or over-hyped love triangles. What struck me was how the dialogue of these actor-physicians matched the very real challenges we hear from doctors every day.

Learn 6 strategies to alleviate the EMR's growing burden on physician practice

Physicians feel like a 'cog in a wheel'

If you've seen any of the commercials for New Amsterdam than you've heard lines such as, "We all feel like the system is too big to change," and "Let's be doctors again."

At a time when more than half of physicians report feeling burnout, physician leaders are fielding concerns just like the ones portrayed by these actors. When talking to medical groups and frontline physicians it's not uncommon to here sentiments such as, "I feel like a cog in the wheel," or "I'm asked to do so much by people who understand nothing about my job."

Of course, this is still cable TV. New Amsterdam still generates the same drama and buzz we're accustomed to from network television. But hidden among the rare diseases and public disasters is an important message: The modern physician feels that the administrative burden of medicine prevents them from providing the type of patient care they were trained to provide.

'Desktop medicine' consumes physician time

An analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found the average physician only spends about 27% of his or her time in direct patient-facing care. So it makes sense that physicians say—as they do in the show—that they want to "be doctors again." Physicians spend the vast majority of their time looking at screens, whether it's because they are responding to patient messages in a portal or documenting a visit in an EHR. This so called "desktop medicine" is the number one driver of physician burnout today. That's why medical group leaders must focus on optimizing the EHR and reducing the administrative burden on physicians.

Repeated throughout New Amsterdam's pilot episode is the question, "How can I help?" The protagonist even goes on to say, "I work for you so you can work for your patients." Many health care executives feel the exact same way. That's why the Medical Group Strategy Council is here to help groups avoid burning out their physicians in the first place. We've developed a suite of resources to help leaders engage their physicians, reduce burnout, and make the EHR as efficient as possible.  

Learn more: Get 4 key strategies to prevent physician burnout

Physician burnout links to a 16% decrease in patient satisfaction, an 11% increase in reported medical errors, increased turnover, and early retirement. Act now to prevent further damage to your business, physicians, and patients.

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