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How doctors can achieve a healthy screen-life balance


Minimizing screen time is essential for avoiding burnout

Doctor writing on pad and reading from computer screen ©


In health care, where doctors rely heavily on digital platforms for patient management, diagnostics, and communication, achieving an optimal screen-life balance has become a formidable task.

There is no argument that integrating digital technology and electronic devices has improved the efficiency of medical practices and patient care. But it has also given rise to a new challenge – maintaining a healthy screen-life balance to avoid burnout. This article looks at the intricate relationship between screen-life imbalance and the health care profession, exploring its impact on the well-being of doctors and the quality of patient care.

Understanding screen-life imbalance

Screen-life imbalance refers to the loss of equilibrium between the time spent on electronic devices, such as computers, tablets, and smartphones, and other aspects of life, including personal well-being, social interactions, and physical activities. In health care, where doctors rely heavily on digital platforms for patient management, diagnostics, and communication, achieving an optimal screen-life balance has become a formidable challenge.

The health care professional's digital dilemma

Health care professionals find themselves entwined in a digital dilemma. On one hand, the advent of electronic health records (EHRs) has streamlined processes, enabling quicker and more accurate patient care. Additionally, telemedicine has made it possible to care for large numbers of patients without having the patient come to our brick-and-mortar facilities. On the other hand, the continuous use of screens poses a risk to the well-being of physicians and allied health care providers, both physically and mentally.

Physical and mental health implications of screen-life imbalance

Extended hours of screen time can lead to various physical health issues among health care professionals. Prolonged exposure to the glare of screens may contribute to digital eye strain, impacting vision and causing discomfort. Additionally, poor ergonomic practices while using electronic devices can result in chronic musculoskeletal problems, affecting the spine, neck, and wrists.

The mental toll of excessive screen time is a pressing concern in health care. The demanding nature of the job, coupled with the constant influx of information through digital channels, can lead to burnout, anxiety, and depression. The pressure to stay updated on the latest medical advances and the responsibility of making critical decisions can exacerbate stress levels among health care professionals.

While incorporating digital tools into health care practices intends to enhance patient care, an imbalanced screen life can have adverse effects. The risk of medical errors increases when health care professionals are tired, stressed, or suffering from physical ailments due to excessive screen use. Maintaining a delicate balance is crucial to ensure that the quality of patient care remains uncompromised.

Addressing the challenges posed by the digital era in health care requires a multifaceted approach. Implementing strategies to promote screen-life balance among health care professionals is essential. Some key measures include:

  • Ergonomic workstations: Designing workspaces that prioritize ergonomic principles can significantly reduce the risk of physical ailments associated with prolonged screen time. Adjustable desks, ergonomic chairs, and proper lighting can create a healthier work environment.
  • Scheduled breaks: Introducing regular breaks during work hours allows health care professionals to step away from screens, stretch, and refresh their minds. Short breaks have been shown to enhance focus and productivity while mitigating the adverse effects of prolonged screen exposure.
  • Mindfulness and stress reduction programs: Incorporating mindfulness practices and stress reduction programs into health care settings can provide clinicians with tools to manage the psychological impact of their demanding roles. Meditation and yoga have proven effective in reducing stress and improving overall well-being.
  • Training on healthy technology use: Offering training programs that educate health care professionals on healthy technology use can empower them to make conscious choices about screen time. This includes techniques to reduce eye strain, proper posture, and setting boundaries between work and personal life.
  • Encouraging outdoor activities: Promoting outdoor activities and exercise can be instrumental in counteracting the sedentary nature of our profession. Physical activity not only benefits overall health but also serves as an effective means of stress relief.
  • “Digital detox” periods: Designating specific times for digital detox, where health care professionals consciously disconnect from electronic devices, can contribute to mental rejuvenation. This may involve setting aside specific hours each day or implementing technology-free days periodically.

Most Americans are internet users. And the number of cell phones in the U.S. is now roughly equal to the population. But our unprecedented access to information and communication has a potential downside: people may get so absorbed in their devices that it impairs their ability to focus on important things like family relationships and becomes a contributor to the 50% burnout rate among health care providers.

Let me offer a solution to this enslavement: it’s called getting unplugged and having an “electronic Sabbatical”. This occurs when you are totally unplugged from the Internet, mobile phone, computer, iPad, and other electronic devices for just one day a week. A Washington Post writer, William Powers, did this with his family. He discussed the advantages of getting unplugged for one day a week in his book, Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life

Preparing for your unplugged day

Think of a solution to move internet or computer tasks or projects to a different day. Answer your most important emails before the unplugged day starts. Setup an automatic email responder that you will not be answer emails until Monday if your unplugged day is Saturday or Sunday. If you write a blog, send out your blog posts on Thursday or Friday.

If you have a Facebook account, don’t respond during your Sabbatical. Your friends will still like you on Monday! Don’t post on Instagram or Snapchat. Your photo can wait to go viral a day later.

Let’s look at the benefits of unplugging. After an unplugged day where you are free from the digital world you will notice dramatic changes within yourself. You will think different, you will act different, and see things from a new perspective.

Time will slow down, you will have more attention to what the priorities of your life and you’ll be more receptive to new ideas, new concepts, and even new friends that are coming your way. Becoming unplugged will make you feel like time is in abundance.

You’ll create room for ideas and insights. You’ll gain real inspiration from life and circumstances that is different from online inspiration. You may find this is the best time for stimulating your creative juices.

There are many more benefits you will find out for yourself, and the positive effects are felt long after the unplugged day is over.

As Thomas Friedman says in his book, Thank You for Being Late, the world is always in a state of acceleration. Friedman advocates taking a regularly scheduled pause for reflection instead of being in a state of constant acceleration. It is a better way to understand, better engage the world around you, and, yes, even become a better doctor.

Bottom line: In the ever-evolving landscape of health care, striking a balance between technology's benefits and your own well-being is imperative. Screen-life balance is not just a personal concern; it directly influences the quality of patient care.

As the health care industry continues to embrace digital innovations, it is crucial to prioritize the physical and mental health of those on the front lines. As we navigate the future of health care, finding equilibrium in the digital age remains a challenge that demands collective attention, proactive solutions, and attention to screen-life imbalance.

Neil Baum, MD, is a professor of clinical urology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA.

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