EHRs, analytics can help track doctor burnout and potential suicide risk

HIMSS18 presenter and Health IT consultant Janae Sharp lost her husband to suicide and now believes clinician engagement tools can help doctors in the future.
By Beth Jones Sanborn
11:21 AM
doctor burnout

For health IT consultant Janae Sharp, this year’s presentation at HIMSS18 will be her first. And it’s personal. Sharp’s husband John was a physician until two years ago when he committed suicide. Now Sharp is on a mission to educate providers, systems and the industry as a whole that physician burnout and suicide is a problem that cannot be ignored any longer. And there’s even a role for data and your EHR to play in tracking employee behavior and potential risk for suicide.

But it’s a difficult conversation to start. The stigma carried by suicide deaths is real, Sharp said, and even affects how physician suicide is measured. The only notable measures are burnout and screening for depression.

“They don’t really want to talk about it and there’s still a lot of shame surrounding it,” Sharp said. “Typically if someone died by suicide, a normal employer would have some kind of crisis response. In school settings that’s legislated. In healthcare, it’s not legislated. Medical education doesn’t legislate it.

[Also: Solving physician burnout: Interdependent care teams beyond hospital setting could be answer]

An estimated 300-400 physicians die by suicide in the U.S. every year, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and 28 percent of residents experience a major depressive episode during training versus 7-8 percent of similarly-aged individuals in the general U.S. population.

During her HIMSS18 presentation, “Physician Suicide and Clinician Engagement Tools,” Sharp will share more of her personal story, as well as shed a much-needed light on the issue including its social aspects, burnout measures, historical and suicide trends among doctors and contributing behavioral health factors and coping skills. Sharp’s goal is to personalize the issue and provide a space for people to deal with it, to create a space for the conversation to start happening.

“There are insurance repercussions and less people help you because they don’t know how to approach it because of the stigma,” Sharp said. “That stigma also has direct financial implications on survivors.”

For such a complicated issue, there must be a multi-pronged solution. It’s not as easy as providing a yoga class for your residents. Health systems should have a behavioral support system for providers, for starters. 

“It’s important for hospitals to quantify the problem for themselves,” Sharp said. “And then to have a planned approach for crisis solutions and for actively teaching your staff how to deal with mental illness or acute trauma for a caregiver.”

Janae Sharp’s session, “Physician Suicide and Clinician Engagement Tools,” takes place at 4 p.m. March 8 at the Venetian Convention Center, Palazzo L.

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Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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