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Addressing Technology Burnout in Mental Health Clinicians

March 03, 2021
Steven Chan, MD, MBA
Steven Chan, MD, MBA

Utilizing technology for telehealth treatment and being unable to meet with patients in person has led many mental health clinicians to experience burnout, causing some of them to stop applying best practices and self-care techniques, Steven Chan, MD, MBA, said at a Psych Congress Regionals session on telepsychiatry.

Best practices, such as prompt note-taking, have become more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. To alleviate this, make notes concise and learn to write notes during the encounter, Psych Congress and Psych Congress Elevate Steering Committees member Dr. Chan told attendees. He shared 3 helpful techniques to write and complete notes on time.

Combatting Clinician Burnout Through Wellness Practices

“I learned a few techniques. One is to explain to them that what they're saying is important, and I would like to write down notes so that I can remember them for the future. That way, I explain it is not a rude thing for me to take notes,” Dr. Chan said. “The second thing is I would share my screen and say: Here are the things you mentioned. Is this correct?”

“The third technique with telepsychiatry is to have the window right underneath the bottom of the webcam.” That window can include your electronic health record and your notes field to type notes and place orders while talking with the patient, maintaining respectful eye contact.

Having open conversations with patients about telehealth's limitations and characteristics will help clinicians properly treat patients with telepsychiatry, said Dr. Chan, clinical informaticist and Medical Director for Addiction Consultation & Treatment, Palo Alto VA Health, California.

The use of technology to meet with patients may lead to what is being described as “Zoom fatigue”, a possible contributing factor in feelings of clinician burnout.

“Typically, what we've seen is that when we are looking at such screens, there is a reduced blink rate. So, the reduced blink rate causes us to not lubricate our eyes, and we get worn out eyes. It does cause us to feel a bit more fatigued,” Dr. Chan said. “We also see that it's easier to get really caught up in work and forget to do things like stretches or getting up from the desk to do a quick walk break.”

Investing in ergonomics tools, such as a standing desk and a comfortable chair, and practicing self-care techniques, such as movement and setting boundaries for work hours and meeting times, can help mitigate fatigue, he explained.

—Meagan Thistle


“Ask the Expert: Telepsychiatry.” Presented at Psych Congress Regionals: Virtual; February 26, 2021.

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