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For Physicians, the Digital Workplace has a Challenging Downside

The Digital Workplace for Physicians has a Challenging Downside

Are you a physician drowning in work? If so, it could be the digital workplace bringing you down. But wait, aren't all of the digital tools we've been given supposed to help us work better, with more focus and efficiency?

According to a recent New York Times Article, that isn't always the case. While the digital workplace has made the healthcare industry more tech-savvy by providing physicians with new ways to serve and treat patients, we rarely question how it's affecting the physicians themselves.

Is the digital workplace beneficial for physicians? Does it help them achieve a better work-life balance? Or does it eliminate all possibilities of separating the two?

Let's dive in.

Minor Context Shifts Steal Productivity

Believe it or not, many people - physicians included - struggle to focus in front of a computer. As a physician, you're constantly cycling through the tabs of the various digital applications you use daily, and these context shifts can limit your productivity. Your brain can't have your inbox open next to the notes you're taking while you're also trying to engage with a patient. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity.

More research has shown that people who work on multiple things simultaneously are less able to filter out irrelevancy, have poorer memory, and are more easily distracted. So, the rule of thumb is that if you have to work on something cognitively demanding (a patient visit, for example), it's best to have zero context shifts during that period.

Working Off the Clock

Of course, technology has been instrumental in healthcare and plays a vital role in the day-to-day operations of doctors' offices and hospitals. From maintaining patient records to scheduling appointments, the digital workplace has pros. But on the flip side, it can also be a source of stress.

Email, remote meeting apps, online charting, and project management software can all lead to physicians who feel overwhelmed and burnt out. And thanks to the ease at which we can access work files and information from our various devices with the click of a button, it is getting harder to switch off once the workday is over.

This is especially true for physicians responsible for their charting and paperwork. The temptation to quickly check emails or finish notes from earlier in the day becomes much stronger. After all, the work needs to get done somehow.

Setting Up a No-Distraction Physician’s Office

While many physicians dream of working in a distraction-free environment, the realities of today’s digital workplace mean few actually achieve it. As Cal Newport defined in "A World Without Email", a hyperactive workflow is "centered around ongoing conversation fueled by unstructured and unscheduled messages delivered through digital communication tools." Given the firmly entrenched daily responsibilities of the typical physician–like examining patients, researching, and diagnosing patient issues, ordering, and interpreting tests–perhaps the only option left to control distractions is to fine-tune the digital workplace.

For example, an Annals of Internal Medicine study found that paperwork–now done electronically, of course–consumes nearly half of the average physician's day. While they spend about 27% of their day on direct clinical face time with patients, 49% of a physician’s time is put toward EHRs and desk work. Many also work up to two hours every evening on EHR-related tasks.

This routine is all too common, and it represents an immense distraction for physicians, both in the office and at home.

Moving the Needle Toward Better Productivity

Yes, technology in the workplace makes certain activities easier and more efficient. But maybe it has made things just easy enough that we can put more on physicians' plates, not factoring in how much that pulls out of their time.

For many physicians, the path to productivity starts with narrowing their focus, giving them more control to move work forward and achieve better health outcomes for their patients. For example, giving patients your undivided attention during appointments without having to document simultaneously.

If you are a physician overburdened by the digital workplace, services such as Virtual Medical Scribes can go a long way toward helping you reduce distractions, increase productivity and find better work/life balance.It is one meaningful step that can bring you back up for air and save you from drowning in the digital workplace.

Physicians Angels is the industry's first Virtual Scribe company, providing real-time documentation directly into the physician's EMR, along with our Staffing Angels back-office support services. Our services save the physician an average of 10 hours per week, thereby improving patient throughput and contributing to a better work/life balance for the physician and office staff. To learn more, visit or contact us.

About the author

Physicians Angels

More time for physicians to see more patients, provide better care, and live their lives. Physicians Angels provides one-of-a-kind EMR data management services to healthcare providers through our real time Virtual Scribe service.