Healthcare can take a lesson from the airline industry, doctors say

Female nurse looking stressed
It's time to create a manageable work environment for doctors and other clinicians. (Getty/gpointstudio)

Just as the airline industry creates a “manageable cockpit” to keep pilots from being overwhelmed, it’s time the healthcare industry takes steps to protect doctors and other clinicians.

“For many clinicians, the work of healthcare has become undoable,” write Christine A. Sinsky, M.D., and Michael R. Privitera, M.D., in an opinion piece in JAMA Internal Medicine.

A team of engineers protects the attention of airline pilots in the cockpit, preventing an information overload by limiting the data displayed and keeping the area free of distractions, they say.

On the other hand, the “cockpit” where physicians and health professionals work is filled with warning alerts, pop-up messages, mandatory tick boxes, an inbox and maddening documentation, write Sinsky, vice president of professional satisfaction and practice sustainability at the American Medical Association, and Privitera of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y. There’s no team of engineers to protect doctors from information overload, distractions, interruptions and cumbersome workflows, they say.

For instance, one study found primary care physicians spend more than half of their workday interacting with electronic health records.

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The result is many clinicians in the United States face more work each day than they can reasonably manage, which leads to burnout, they said. Among the steps they say would create a more manageable work environment include:

Developing measures that capture factors such as time pressure and administrative and clerical work.

Encouraging interventions to create a more manageable workplace, such as using medical scribes or badge readers that save time logging in to electronic heath systems.

Establishing best practices to support clinicians, such as minimizing the burden of obtaining prior authorizations or decreasing documentation requirements.

Eliminating some of those factors that take up doctors’ time will allow them to spend time on activities central to patient care, such as engaging, being empathetic, listening to the patient and making careful decisions, they say.