On the 5th Day of #HITChristmas … Gabe Charbonneau, MD and #FightBurnout

Note: In case you missed the other 12 Days of #HITChristmas, you can start with the first day here along with the story behind #HITChristmas or read all 12 days here as they are published.

On the 5th Day of #HITChristmas we’re excited to feature, Gabe Charbonneau, MD and #FightBurnout.

Tell us about yourself and your work.

I have a lot of interests, but I’m especially passionate about technology and medicine. I’m the Co-founder & CTO of Fluent Systems, an EHR automation software company. I develop EHR problem-solving content for Practicing Excellence and their Clinician Experience Project. Over the last year I’ve enjoyed being an adviser to the AI scribe company, Tenor. And, one of my favorite projects was when my son and I built an iPhone game about diabetes with a flying super-hero pancreas. My greatest fulfillment is when I sit with doctors one-on-one and help craft craft tools to fix the things that are most holding them back from success in the EHR.

Why did you become so interested in physician burnout?

My day job is as a family physician. Primary care is in the epicenter of burnout. These are my friends and peers. I would be lying if I said I had never felt burned out. In fact, my own struggles have often sparked the fire that drives me to develop my best tools and strategies.

What are you doing to try and help fight physician burnout?

What I’m doing now is pretty simple. We all know there’s tons of evidence and a growing trend of clinician burnout. But, what’s not so clear is what we can actively do to help. I’m starting a project to celebrate people that I know are making a difference. This is through gifting of awesome t-shirts and personal thank you cards. I hired a designer to create something that I hope will be meaningful to others as it is to me. The shirt shows a phoenix bird raising the Rod of Asclepius out of the flames below.

The symbolism is intended to be obvious. American health care is in a crisis like we’ve never seen before. Costs are extraordinary. Outcomes are less than impressive. And, the people we need most to lead us are burned out to the point of wanting to leave medicine all together, or worse. I can’t fix this problem, but I can show gratitude and support to those I look up to who are fighting the good fight.

This project is somewhat similar to the #PinkSocks movement, yet on a much smaller scale. And, of course the focus is on burnout. I’m beginning with a list of people who inspire me with their outstanding work, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Where are you we seeing some progress in addressing physician burnout and where are we still kind of blind to the issues?

Positive change is happening. Stanford, Kaiser, and Boston Medical Center are a few of the leaders that have been paving the way. In fact, the AMA has a continuing education module based on what these groups are doing that works. We are seeing compelling data that scribe programs are one of the most effective anti-burnout measures for today’s systems. CMS and ONC are working on it. The CPC+ program cut it’s tracking requirements from 19 measures down to 2 for next year. Even EHR vendors are starting to take it seriously.

Where we are blind is that there is still quite a bit of stigma about burnout. This needs to stop. We know from our own experience treating patients with mental illness that stigma makes it harder for those who need it to get help. I had a friend tell me that maybe my shirts shouldn’t say the word burnout because it’s so charged. I pushed back and said this is a real problem, and it’s time to look it straight in the eye. He agreed.

Another issue is that these problems didn’t pop-up overnight. Large organizations especially can be slow to adopt changes, even when positive.

If you could wave a magic wand today and have anything change, what would you have changed in order to improve physician burnout?

Haha, rewind the clock and undo Meaningful Use! I love tech. Paper notes needed to go. But, man oh man did we mess this one up. If I was designing an EHR incentive program from the ground up I would first consult some of my favorite thinkers: Nassim Taleb, Charlie Munger, and Shane Parrish come to mind. Also, my friend and workflow fanatic, Chuck Webster.

What can the healthcare IT community do for you?

Spread the word that burnout doesn’t have to be the accepted norm. We can all make a difference. There are people out there now doing great things to help. Highlight them and help amplify their impact. Oh, and if you like the shirts and what they stand for, please share fun selfies (goofy is preferred) on social media with the #FightBurnout hashtag. If you know someone who needs recognition with a t-shirt, or would otherwise like to get involved, reach out. I would love to hear from you!

Be sure to follow all of the 12 Day of #HITChristmas.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.