Nearly all doctors feel burnout, but many are encouraged by potential of AI, survey says


Doctors in the U.S. are struggling to contend with burnout, staffing shortages and overwhelming administrative workloads, but many are optimistic that artificial intelligence could help to ease these problems, a new survey found. 

More than 90% of physicians report feeling burned out on a “regular basis,” according to the survey, commissioned by Athenahealth, which offers cloud-based health-care tools. The survey found that excessive administrative tasks such as paperwork are the driving force behind this burnout, with 64% of doctors saying they feel overwhelmed by clerical requirements. 

More than 60% of respondents said they have considered leaving the medical field, the report said. 

Athenahealth released the results of the survey Wednesday.

To keep up with workloads, physicians are spending an average of 15 hours per week working outside their normal hours, in what many in the industry refer to as “pajama time,” the survey said. 

Nearly 60% of doctors in the survey said they feel they do not have enough in-person time with their patients, and more than 75% reported feeling overwhelmed by patients’ “excessive communication demands,” such as frequent texting, calling and emailing outside scheduled visits. 

Doctors are also noticing the challenges that their employers are facing, the survey found. 

Around 78% of physicians said poor staff retention and shortages are affecting their organizations, according to the survey. Additionally, fewer than 40% of doctors feel confident that their employer is “on solid financial footing.” 

Despite these obstacles, 83% of doctors in the survey said they believed AI could help. Physicians think the technology could eventually streamline administrative work, improve the accuracy of diagnoses, identify patterns and anomalies in patient data and more, the survey said.

Many doctors said their biggest concern about AI is that it could lead to a loss of human touch in health care, and around 70% said they are concerned about the technology’s use during at least one part of the diagnosis process, the survey said. 

Even so, twice as many survey participants said AI would eventually be part of the solution, compared with those who said AI is part of the problem, according to the news release. 

The study said AI optimists — survey participants who indicated that AI is part of the solution — also tend to feel more positive about the broader use of technology in health care. Nearly 80% of that group said they think tech helps them manage their patient workload, for instance.  

“In order for physicians to fully benefit from technology as a care enhancement tool, they need to experience more advantages and fewer added complexities or burdens,” Dr. Nele Jessel, chief medical officer of Athenahealth, said in the release. “If we get this right, we’ll be using the technology to reduce administrative work and increase efficiencies in ways that allow physicians to refocus on their patients.”

While AI is unlikely to solve health-care problems overnight, the survey found that the technology is giving some doctors hope for the future. Around 37% of the AI optimists believe the field is ultimately heading in the right direction, according to the survey.

In the study, 1,003 doctors were surveyed between Oct. 23 and Nov. 8. The survey was conducted online by market research firm The Harris Poll on behalf of Athenahealth, whose sponsorship of the study was not revealed to the survey participants, the release said. Only 5% of respondents said they use Athenahealth’s technology, the release said.

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