Focused, organized doctors are an important part of the healthcare system. After all, if physicians are misplacing records or forgetting important steps in a check-up, there will definitely be negative health consequences. Unfortunately, a new study out of the Mayo Clinic suggests advancements in electronic record keeping may actually be causing doctors to burn out.

“Electronic health records hold great promise for enhancing coordination of care and improving quality of care,” said Dr. Tait Shanafelt, lead author of the study and a doctor at the Mayo Clinic, in a statement. “In their current form and implementation, however, they have had a number of unintended consequences including reducing efficiency, increasing clerical burden and increasing the risk of burnout for physicians.”

Burnout is defined as a specific kind of stress: “A state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work,” according to the Mayo Clinic. It can cause irritability and cynicism at work, and can sap the satisfaction from achievements. It can even lead to alcohol or drug use as an attempt to feel better.

Physician burnout, specifically, can include the development of a callous and negative attitude about patients and their worries. This, of course, can be very dangerous in terms of providing quality health care and advice.

Researchers examined a national sample of doctors using the American Medical Association Masterfile, which includes a nearly perfect record of all the country’s physicians. The sample included 6,560 doctors — of all ages, sexes, and specialties — and the study authors administered surveys between August and October 2014.

They analyzed validated signs of burnout, and the electronic practices of each doctor, They saw that satisfaction with computerized physician entry systems and electronic records varied significantly by specialty. Those with the lowest satisfaction with their clerical burden included family physicians, urologists, and neurologists. The researchers also noticed that use of computerized physician order entries was most strongly linked to burnout.

“Although electronic health records, electronic prescribing, and computerized physician order entry have been touted as ways to improve quality of care, these tools also create clerical burden, cognitive burden, frequent interruptions and distraction — all of which can contribute to physician burnout,” Dr. Shanafelt said. “Burnout has been shown to erode quality of care, increase risk of medical errors, and lead physicians to reduce clinical work hours, suggesting that the net effect of these electronic tools on quality of care for the U.S. health care system is less clear.”

Shanafelt suggested health care providers try to find ways to implement electronic systems in a manner that would not pile more work on physicians, thereby letting them work more efficiently. Further study is necessary to find out exactly how to do this, and confirm if the link between electronic systems and burnout is causal.

Source: Shanafelt T, et al. Electronic Medical Practice Environment Can Lead To Physician Burnout. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2016.