When Paperwork Leads to Burnout

When Paperwork Leads to Burnout

Linda R. Duska, MD, MPH

Jul 14, 2017

I love talking to other ASCO members and learning why they became doctors (and nurses, and advanced practice providers, and patient advocates, and practice managers, and statisticians…). Everyone has a story. I know people for whom medicine runs in the family, and are the latest in a long line of physicians. I know others who had serious health setbacks when they were young, and were inspired to go into medicine by the care they received. I know people who became doctors because they love the intellectual challenge of clinical research, and wanted to make a contribution to our body of knowledge. I know people who became doctors because they felt called to help others, and this was the best way they found.

But I don’t know anyone who became a doctor because they love paperwork.

And yet, increasingly, documentation and reporting are how many of us spend our time. Most of us know this to be true anecdotally, but ASCO’s State of Cancer Care in America, 2017 report gives us data:

  • In a study of 16 practices in four common specialties (not including oncology), 57 physicians spent 27% of their time with patients, versus 49% of their time on electronic health record documentation and desk work.
  • In another study, 1,000 surveyed practices from common medical specialties spent a total of $15.4 billion and an average of 785 hours per physician annually to meet quality reporting requirements.
  • A survey of 1,000 physicians found that medical practices complete an average of 37 prior authorization requirements per physician weekly, taking an average of 16 hours of clinician time.

These burdensome documentation and reporting requirements have encroached on time that we used to spend in vastly more satisfying ways: talking with our patients, conducting research, teaching, writing, learning, mentoring... Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that a hallmark symptom of professional burnout is a reduced sense of personal accomplishment.

As we try to squeeze more and more responsibilities into the same 24 hours each day, one of our responsibilities must be to take care of ourselves, and to support each other.

So we continue our Beat Burnout series in this issue with advice and guidance on how to talk to your program director, supervisor, and colleagues about feelings of stress, fatigue, emotional overload, depersonalization, and burnout .

I also encourage you to visit ASCOconnection.org to read our Physician Wellness blog, which launched in January 2017. In that space, members are sharing candid personal stories about burnout and resilience, representing diverse perspectives across our profession. You’ll find an overview of some of the recent posts in the burnout article mentioned above. If you’re interested in contributing a post to the blog, contact our editorial staff.

It’s so important to remember that no matter how you’re feeling, you’re not alone—especially if your feeling is that you hate paperwork.


The ideas and opinions expressed on the ASCO Connection Blogs do not necessarily reflect those of ASCO. None of the information posted on ASCOconnection.org is intended as medical, legal, or business advice, or advice about reimbursement for health care services. The mention of any product, service, company, therapy or physician practice on ASCOconnection.org does not constitute an endorsement of any kind by ASCO. ASCO assumes no responsibility for any injury or damage to persons or property arising out of or related to any use of the material contained in, posted on, or linked to this site, or any errors or omissions.

Back to Top