Research has demonstrated the benefits of integrating the humanities into medicine. What about bringing medicine to the arts? There are countless examples of physicians in literature: John Keats, Williams Carlos Williams, Anton Chekhov, Abraham Verghese. These poets and authors help us understand humanity through the unique perspective they developed as healers. But what about the performing arts? Is there a role for the physician’s perspective on Broadway?
“So you want to know how I died.” These lyrics begin the first song Michael Ehrenreich, MD, wrote for Medicine: The Musical. It encapsulates that common first-year experience of dissecting a cadaver—wondering about the person whose body you’re using to learn, so intimately, about structure and function, yet not dwelling so much on the individual that the work before you becomes impossible.
The day after I participated in the Second Wingspread Summit on Preventing Physician Burnout in Jacksonville Florida, I was considering the high points of the event: connecting with others who are committed to understanding and addressing the problem, learning about courageous organizations that are testing ways to fix the root causes, hearing recently published evidence on what works.
As I drove my rental car the 140 miles to Orlando for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Annual Forum, I thought about feedback that might help make the next summit that much more spectacular.
My only regret, I thought as I contemplated the flat, straight freeway down eastern coast of the Sunshine State, was that we didn’t have an opportunity for everyone to introduce themselves. Well, I thought, in a group of 3 dozen people, a minute or two each eats up a good chunk of time.
From there, I wondered what I would say if I were asked to introduce myself and explain my passion for addressing burnout—why the topic is so important to me—in as few words as possible.
During the Q&A period after a presentation I gave recently on understanding and preventing physician burnout, a physician in the audience voiced her vehement objections to the current electronic health record (EHR) with a simple statement: “We need a revolution.”
In a few words she described her frustrations with the EHR. “It is meaningless—full of fields that we cut and paste from other fields. There are an ever-growing number of pull-down menus and boxes to check, because we are required to document every possible ICD-10 code to make sure the hospital can bill as much as permitted. It leaves me little time to do what I’m there to do: care for my patients.”
Many, many physicians are voicing the same frustrations with the EHR. The negative impact of the EHR is not the only systemic problem fueling physician burnout, but it’s high on the list.
As I drove home from the talk that night, I was struck by how closely the physicians’ experience with the EHR mirrors the central theme of Charles Dickens’ novel, Bleak House. I’m a voracious reader of fiction, although not a huge fan of the classics. But this work made an impact on me that persisted long after I finished my high school English assignment.