Thriving primary care practices are foundational to our entire health system, so widespread reports of burnout among primary care physicians (PCPs) are cause for great concern.  Beyond the stress of providing care during a two-year pandemic, navigating the complexities of the electronic health record (EHR) has long been a drain of time and energy.  Because PCPs treat the entire patient, using the EHR effectively is much more burdensome than for specialists. Furthermore, in most marketplaces there is a dearth of behavioral health professionals, so PCPs are called upon to treat patients’ mental and emotional needs, as well as promote their physical well-being. They are overburdened by the demands placed upon them, and as a result, many PCPs say they no longer find joy in what they do.

PCPs’ ability to serve our communities by treating the entire patient from a holistic point of view is critical to not just individual health systems, but to healthcare across the nation as a whole. I believe the depth of the crisis in primary care demands a response from our entire industry, both for the well-being of our primary care colleagues and for the health of the communities we serve. We must be willing to acknowledge what isn’t working and take a new approach to support them.

Dig deeper to discover what support is needed.

Several experienced PCPs have shared with me that they are considering retiring early. The extreme challenges of COVID, combined with the already onerous EHR, has been the last straw for many of them. During the pandemic, many PCPs noted that finding a hybrid way to use telehealth had become overwhelming.

We must take the time to understand the burden placed on these physicians. As CEO, I had a responsibility not just to lend a listening ear to our PCPs but also to get them the support they needed to ease the burden. My team and I were determined to find which physicians were struggling the most. We looked into our EHR system and could see the physicians who were making entries in their charts at 1 a.m., way beyond the bounds of their regular clinic hours. We worked with the physician group to give at-the-elbow support to these providers to help them navigate the EHR, patient complexity, and technological changes, so that they could see some reasonable improvement in their work-life balance.

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Author: Keith HovanKeith Hovan is a highly experienced senior healthcare executive with multidecade clinical and administrative leadership experience across community, teaching, and academic medical center settings. He has demonstrated expertise in system-level operations, strategic planning, business development, physician relations, and medical practice development.