Impact of Electronic Health Record Use on Cognitive Load and Burnout Among Clinicians: Narrative Review

The cognitive load theory suggests that completing a task relies on the interplay between sensory input, working memory, and long-term memory. Cognitive overload occurs when the working memory’s limited capacity is exceeded due to excessive information processing. In health care, clinicians face increasing cognitive load as the complexity of patient care has risen, leading to potential burnout. Electronic health records (EHRs) have become a common feature in modern health care, offering improved access to data and the ability to provide better patient care. They have been added to the electronic ecosystem alongside emails and other resources, such as guidelines and literature searches. Concerns have arisen in recent years that despite many benefits, the use of EHRs may lead to cognitive overload, which can impact the performance and well-being of clinicians. We aimed to review the impact of EHR use on cognitive load and how it correlates with physician burnout. Additionally, we wanted to identify potential strategies recommended in the literature that could be implemented to decrease the cognitive burden associated with the use of EHRs, with the goal of reducing clinician burnout. Using a comprehensive literature review on the topic, we have explored the link between EHR use, cognitive load, and burnout among health care professionals. We have also noted key factors that can help reduce EHR-related cognitive load, which may help reduce clinician burnout. The research findings suggest that inadequate efforts to present large amounts of clinical data to users in a manner that allows the user to control the cognitive burden in the EHR and the complexity of the user interfaces, thus adding more “work” to tasks, can lead to cognitive overload and burnout; this calls for strategies to mitigate these effects. Several factors, such as the presentation of information in the EHR, the specialty, the health care setting, and the time spent completing documentation and navigating systems, can contribute to this excess cognitive load and result in burnout. Potential strategies to mitigate this might include improving user interfaces, streamlining information, and reducing documentation burden requirements for clinicians. New technologies may facilitate these strategies. The review highlights the importance of addressing cognitive overload as one of the unintended consequences of EHR adoption and potential strategies for mitigation, identifying gaps in the current literature that require further exploration….