Practice Notes

The secret weapon to beat burnout? 'EHR Happy Hour.'

by Virginia Reid and Rachel Woods

Physician burnout costs the U.S. health care system $4.6 billion a year—and that's likely an underestimate, according to researchers at Harvard Business School. Burnout has many causes, but EHRs are a major contributor. In a recent Medscape study, 32% of physicians chose EHRs as the top contributor to their burnout.

Excessive time spent in the EMR is one of the biggest drivers of burnout—learn how to reduce it

Physicians' EHR frustration stems from two main issues: 1) doctors have limited knowledge of the technology, and 2) they find it difficult to keep up with constant changes to the system. But a recent article from the Annals of Family Medicine highlights how MU Health Care overcomes both of these problems with a creative and constructive solution: physician happy hour.

MU Health Care's EHR Happy Hour

Once a month, physicians from MU Health Care's 60-faculty physician family medicine practice meet for "EHR happy hours," informal gatherings where the focus is to crowdsource EHR documentation tips and tricks. The EHR trainers who lead the meetings prefer to keep them small—typically three to 10 participants—which allows them to address individual concerns. The happy hours aim to provide quick but high-yield solutions to EHR issues that the physicians can troubleshoot in real time as a group. 

The meetings have proven to be helpful so far. As one physician leader said, "We expected EHR Happy Hour to help physicians save time and lighten documentation burden, [but] an unexpected outcome is that all participants, clinician and EHR trainer facilitators included, learn something new during the sessions."

Here are three key takeaways from MU Health Care's happy hour model:

  1. The importance of peer-to-peer collaboration can't be overstated. Across the board, attendees of the happy hours reported that it was cathartic to talk through their documentation issues with fellow physicians. Creating spaces for social support made doctors feel less isolated. Physicians described the meetings as "collegial" and emphasized that they consistently came away with new skills.

  2. Busy physicians will find the time if it means greater efficiency. Physician leaders were worried overburdened doctors wouldn't have time to attend happy hours, but they found the physicians who spent the most time in the EHR were the ones who showed up to monthly meetings time and time again.

  3. Shift the blame of inefficiency from the provider to the tool. Physician leaders noted physicians felt affirmed when they acknowledged that EHR inefficiency stems mostly from the technology and workflow, not their personal faults. This reassurance gave doctors a feeling of control over their work and increased feelings of self-efficacy, a huge win for reducing burnout.

How to emulate MU Health Care's EHR happy hour

Want to set up an EHR happy hour for your physicians? Here are some considerations:

  • Use Google Docs to crowdsource tips and tricks. Doctors at MU Health Care liked having a shared document where they could add EHR workarounds in real-time. Plus, the shared documents meant physicians who couldn't make the happy hour could still access the information, allowing for easy knowledge-sharing.

  • Schedule the meetings at a time when physicians are already gathering. At MU Health Care, happy hours were held on mornings that physicians already had a standing faculty meeting.

  • Be willing to throw out the agenda. Key to the happy hour's success was its flexibility; leaders came prepared with ideas of what to discuss, but allowed physicians to drive the agenda if they had specific concerns that week.

  • Keep the student-teacher ratio low: MU Health Care aimed for a student-teacher ratio of three-to-one or four-to-one, so that instructors could work one-on-one or in small groups. Instructors can be a mix of EHR trainers and physician leaders.
 

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Learn more: The 4 ways you can fight 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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