Physician burnout is one of the most serious conditions in today's medical profession. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality defines the condition as "a long-term stress reaction caused by emotional exhaustion [and] depersonalization," among other factors. According to the American Medical Association, physicians suffer from considerable stress caused by facets of their job that have little to do with actually providing personalized patient care. The AMA reports that physicians spend up to six hours daily working with electronic health records (EHRs) to adhere to government and hospital documentation requirements. That's six hours not spent seeing patients, and thus not having the time to listen carefully and diagnose, empathize, hold a hand, speak with family members, or explain conditions and next steps.
Medicine has come unimaginably far over the last century, driven by brilliant committed people and technology. In the last 20 years, we have seen the introduction of monoclonal antibody drugs, robotic surgery, and astounding intravascular treatments. All of medicine is entering a renaissance with a multitude of minimally invasive techniques and advancements. As we see the'old fashioned' physical exam go by the wayside as technology supplants and enhances our diagnostics by leaps and bounds. With cheap and plentiful EKG machines, how much less do we rely on a stethoscope?
Healthcare has long considered technology as essential in improving the treatment and care of patients. With AI ushering in what's said to be the fourth industrial revolution, many hospitals are gearing up for new AI-based applications that will further improve patient outcomes, increase physician productivity and reduce errors. Based on several studies, AI-based applications can potentially save the U.S. healthcare industry $150 billion annually by 2026. As AI technology in healthcare continues to gain wider acceptance, several areas are predicted to experience the most success and make the greatest impact. Hospitals find it challenging to recruit nurses in several parts of the U.S., and in some rural areas, the nursing shortage is affecting patient care.
Eric Topol is the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, Calif. His books include The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands and Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again. For decades, there has been a steady erosion of the practice of medicine, with progressively less time between patients and doctors, a global epidemic of physician burnout that has now reached a crisis, a doubling of medical errors when doctors have symptoms of depression and most serious errors attributable to bad clinical judgment. Concurrently, each patient's cumulative data, such as prior history, laboratory tests, scans and sensor output, keeps growing, as has the doctor's relegation to the role of data clerk. The limited time to think has led one leading physician to conclude: "Modern medical practice is a Petri dish for medical error, patient harm and physician burnout."