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AI to the rescue: a game-changer for physician burnout?

If you’re a physician reading this, the concept of burnout likely needs no introduction. The harsh realities of our profession—long hours, extreme stress, mounting paperwork—have taken an immense toll on clinicians across every specialty. Everywhere you look, it seems there’s another survey about the escalating number of physicians who self-identify as burning out.

I don’t need to cite statistics to convey the impacts—most of us have experienced them firsthand: emotional exhaustion, a sense of detachment, and a loss of motivation and joy in our work. Burnout doesn’t just degrade our personal well-being and work satisfaction; it can actually impair our ability to provide top-notch patient care.

My own experience with burnout was brought to light recently. I remember the countless nights I charted until midnight after my kids went to sleep and the lost weekends I spent worrying about staffing efficiencies and turnover. I loved caring for patients, but everything else was becoming too much. I’m sure many of you can relate.

But what if there was a better way?

It was around this time that I first started exploring AI-powered tools to ease my administrative burdens. At first, I was admittedly skeptical about how much they could really help—I didn’t understand how they could be used in a medical practice, as they seemed geared towards the tech sector. But within weeks of implementing an AI-driven note-writing assistant, I started noticing real impacts.

Rather than transcribing detailed visit notes by hand, I could simply have a regular conversation with my patient in the exam room while having AI listen at the same time via an app on my phone (and always making sure that the patient was aware that the AI app was listening to our conversation). It would then generate a comprehensive, well-structured note for me to quickly review and finalize on my desktop. No more hurried typing or after-hours chart-filling. I could focus entirely on the patient consultation itself.

With documentation streamlined, I suddenly found myself leaving the clinic 1 to 2 hours earlier most days—with no intention of logging back in at crazy hours of the night. Those late nights charting until midnight became a rarity instead of the norm. With more personal time regained, I found myself more available—and the first to notice were my children. The signs of burnout began lifting.

I try to write a blog or two a month, something that I enjoy doing, but I often find this relegated to late-night/weekend hours. I started to play around with OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Anthropic’s Claude AI tools to help me write my blogs more efficiently—and this article is no exception. I started by letting Claude know what I wanted to write about and also asking him what info I could provide in order to produce a more well-rounded product. It gave me a pretty good place to start, and in the end, this article took half the time to write—maybe even less.

My experience is hardly unique. As AI tools grow more sophisticated, countless clinicians are discovering how they can offload tedious, repetitive tasks and rediscover the rewarding aspects of medicine we signed up for.

So what can you do with AI today in your practice?

At its core, AI’s potential for health care lies in automating routine, labor-intensive processes that have traditionally fallen on physicians. Although those processes don’t directly involve patient care, they consume massive amounts of our time and mental energy.

Think of AI as a “virtual scribe” that can automate clinical documentation and even order entry in some cases. Instead of hunching over a computer, we can maximize our patient face-time and still make it out easily on time for soccer/cheer/[insert after-school activity here] practice.

Some key areas where AI can drive major efficiency gains:

Note writing. There is now a plethora of commercially available products that use advanced natural language processing (NLP) to generate detailed visit notes with clinical accuracy near or exceeding expert human scribes. I’ve personally reduced my note-writing time by over 50 percent since adopting an AI assistant.

Clinical decision support. By rapidly synthesizing information across journals, datasets, and knowledge bases, AI can surface the latest evidence and guidelines to optimize treatment decisions.

Back office automation. From prior authorizations to billing/coding to refill requests, AI can streamline numerous administrative workflows. If you have a Doximity account (and if you don’t, you really should!), you can now use their custom GPT, which is an AI chatbot that can generate letters, appeal documents, and more.

A worthwhile investment

Of course, most of these solutions are not free. AI implementation requires allocating a budget (although many are relatively inexpensive) and overcoming the learning curve that comes with new technologies. But from my limited personal experience, I can attest the ROI is undeniable when it comes to reclaiming your personal time and well-being.

By reducing my charting demands by over one hour every clinic day, I’ve gained back precious family time, work-life balance, and overall higher job satisfaction. It’s an immensely reasonable tradeoff for a subscription or one-time platform fee that’s a drop in the bucket for most practices.

Beyond the personal impacts, effective use of AI-powered clinical documentation can optimize billing accuracy and revenue cycles. The ability to produce higher-quality notes that capture all relevant details can yield significant financial returns.

Even basic AI chat assistants, typically available for free or low costs, can provide efficiency gains. For example, if your office staff have a number of documents they have to reference on a daily basis or need to provide information to patients frequently, you can create a custom GPT (in a sense, a custom AI bot), train it using your documentation, and then have your staff interact with the GPT to generate the specific documents for the patient. For instance, you might ask your medical assistant to generate a custom diet for a patient you just saw who is suffering from GERD, and all they have to do is prompt the GPT with something along the lines of “Please create a GERD diet handout for Mr. Jones, and include several examples of meal prep,” and your patient can now walk out with quick yet meaningful education material.

Another use case is with staff onboarding—you can potentially load all the onboarding information to a GPT, and as you have new hires, you can use the custom GPT to onboard your staff, saving time for yourself or other staff members who would typically have to spend a significant amount of time onboarding the new employees.

The road ahead

I’ll be upfront—AI alone cannot “solve” the systemic drivers of physician burnout. Issues like excessive workloads, misaligned compensation models, declining reimbursement, and suboptimal workplace culture require bigger-picture reforms.

But in the here and now, AI presents a powerful opportunity to start clawing back control of our daily lives as clinicians. By offloading rote tasks and administrative drudgery, we can rediscover the fulfillment that drew us to medicine in the first place—building connections and providing impactful care. This is equally true for a sole practitioner, a hospital-based employee, or a PE-backed provider in a huge practice.

If you’re feeling increasingly disillusioned, burdened, or detached from your work, I encourage you to explore AI-powered solutions proactively. The cost of burnout in our personal and professional lives is far too high to resign ourselves to the status quo.

For too many clinicians, burnout has become an accepted norm rather than a solvable challenge. With the rise of accessible, affordable AI tools tailored to our industry’s needs, we finally have a powerful means to start reclaiming control. The path forward will require open minds to overcome lingering skepticism, but the potential impacts make embracing change well worth the initial efforts.

All it takes is the willingness to make AI work for us, not against us. Who’s ready to start writing their comeback story?

Stuart Akerman is a gastroenterologist and can be reached at his self-titled site, Stuart Akerman, MD.


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