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How to achieve a healthy screen-life balance

Medical Economics JournalMedical Economics April 2024
Volume 100
Issue 05

Screen-life imbalance refers to the loss of equilibrium between time spent on electronic devices and other aspects of life, including personal well-being, social interactions, and physical activities.

Achieving a healthy screen-life balance: ©NineNII - stock.adobe.com

Achieving a healthy screen-life balance: ©NineNII - stock.adobe.com

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.

Screen-life imbalance refers to the loss of equilibrium between time spent on electronic devices and other aspects of life, including personal well-being, social interactions, and physical activities.

The physician’s dilemma

Physicians find themselves entwined in a digital dilemma. 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, continuous screen time poses a risk to the well-being of physicians and providers.

Digital implications

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 physicians.

While incorporating digital tools into medical 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 the right balance is crucial.

Strategies to find balance

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 doctors 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 programs:Incorporating mindfulness practices and stress reduction programs 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 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.

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, M.D., is a professor of clinical urology at Tulane University in New Orleans.

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