What sets a physician apart from any other profession? Beyond the immediate qualifications that come to mind (highly-skilled expertise, tireless training, life-or-death decision-making), the true “heart” of a doctor was famously distilled by Dr. Martin H. Fischer in 1930: “Observation, reason, human understanding, courage—these make the physician.” Almost a century later, this is no less true today. As the healthcare workforce enters its third year battling the covid-19 pandemic, clinicians have displayed scrupulous observation, expert reason, vital human understanding, and heroic courage in the face of staffing shortages, heightened workplace violence, and a rapidly evolving disease with new complexities and shifting guidance every day.
While the heart of a physician today is no less ingrained with these four core pillars, the day-to-day job responsibilities of a clinician is an entirely different reality: The average patient visit is 18 minutes—of which physicians spend almost all of that time at their computer (an average of 16 minutes per patient encounter, according to a study of 100,000 visits). Dr. Fischer reflected the spirit of a profession before healthcare began to rapidly scale up to the masses post-world wars, and long before the modern day computer. Today, the job of a doctor at times looks more like that of an accountant than it does to Dr. Fischer’s time.
Case in point: In The Digital Doctor, Dr. Bob Wachter highlights a seven-year-old’s drawing of her own doctor's experience. Among brightly colored crayon markings, you see a physician with their back turned to the girl and her mother, nose careening towards the computer screen. It’s clear that technologies like EHRs that digitized healthcare and further amplified its scale to 20% of the national GDP now threaten the nature of the profession as Dr. Fischer reflected it—at least the very human element.
Dr. Jennifer Sun, a physician and clinical product manager at Commure, hopes the future of exceptional care delivery flips that image back to healthcare as it should be: “I would like to give patient care back to doctors, so they can concentrate on looking patients in the eye and not have eyes on a screen. So that the patient feels like they are actually seen and heard by the physician. So the physicians are not spending every waking moment documenting minutia.”
According to our chief health and innovation officer, Saurabha Bhatnagar, MD, MBA, “Health is incredibly personal; the healthcare experience today is not. Technology driving exceptional care should feel invisible—seamlessly working in the background to enable the healthcare workforce to spend more time present in moments of care.” Dr. Bhatnagar believes improving technology with human-centric design and deployment principles will be key to challenging that. “It is amazing to me how simple tasks become more complicated when technology is involved. This is a factor in why clinicians are burning out, spending time after hours doing non-value add work. But it’s a problem that we are laser-focused on fixing.”
Our chief executive officer, Dr. Ashwini Zenooz agreed, noting “Exceptional care can’t happen until we address the issue of burnout head on. We took the hippocratic oath to care for people, not to manage the multitude of siloed technology solutions. We need to reassess and leverage the right tech to give time back for patient care.”
Clinicians need a digital infrastructure that ensures technology is seamlessly integrated into their daily workflows to minimize screen toggling and digital fatigue. While the impacts of such an infrastructure will no-doubt have value for physicians at the individual level, it can also lay the foundation for an overdue shift in healthcare.
Dr. Greg McDavitt, a physician executive at Commure, shared “With the right infrastructure in place, eventually I believe we will reach a state of care delivery that is digital-first, decentralized, personalized for everyone, and easily integrated across a complex ecosystem of different players that make up the care continuum and ecosystem. We’ll see patients take control of their health, and health systems able to achieve a value-based, wellness-focused model that we cannot today with current tech systems in place.”
The time to restore the human sanctity of healthcare is now. While technology has at times undermined this core pillar of the physician experience, there is still room for thoughtfully built technology to fully empower physicians to do the jobs they set out to do: taking care of other people.
If that’s a mission that inspires you, join us. Visit: commure.com/careers
Howard Grant, JD, MD, Retired CEO Lahey Clinic and Health System Former CMO Geisinger Health