Telemedicine fatigue is real. Here's what you can do about it.

By Jules Murtha
Published February 14, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Although the use of telemedicine improves access to patient care, physicians are increasingly fatigued by working long days at a computer—especially if they lack the proper training to do so effectively.

  • Ocular stress, emotional stress, pain, disrupted physician workflow, and adverse effects on the physician-patient relationship are all contributors to telemedicine fatigue.

  • Doctors can make ergonomic, external, and technical adjustments to mitigate fatigue associated with telehealth and maximize its benefits.

The emergence of COVID-19 prompted the widespread use of telemedicine. The popular virtual health tool lets patients see their doctor and save money and travel time, all while limiting exposure to COVID. 

Despite its convenience, telemedicine poses several challenges to doctors’ health and well-being. Avoiding telemedicine fatigue—also called “Zoom fatigue”—may require physicians to redesign their approach to virtual care from the ground-up.

A new set of challenges for doctors

While physicians recognize the positive aspects of telemedicine—improved access to patient care, more time dedicated to counseling patients, and a bird’s eye view of a patient’s home environment and family dynamics—they also report a series of telehealth-specific roadblocks.

According to a 2021 study published by the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, doctors notice that some patients may lack the technology and related skills to navigate telemedicine visits. Additionally, when patients require a physical examination, doctors face significant barriers that generally don’t pop up when patients arrive in-person.

The absence of touch and common patient-doctor rituals could also deteriorate the relationship between clinicians and their patients. The flexibility of telemedicine presents the opportunity for doctors to overbook themselves—a factor that could lead to burnout.

Still, these only touch on patient-related challenges. Doctors who frequently use telemedicine report ocular stress, body pains, and fatigue, as mentioned in an article published by 

"A video connection negates the subtleties of connection that are critical to my assessment of a parent and child."

Bryan Vartabedian, MD

These issues surface when video chatting deprives physicians of the full range of non-verbal cues from patients. To make matters worse, doctors often use devices that are too small, causing eye strain and irritation. The cherry on top: Clinicians feel self-conscious and hyper-focused when seeing themselves on the screen. All of these factors pave the way to Zoom fatigue, and potentially, burnout.

The nature of video chatting in appointments has very real consequences for physician mental health, too.

Bryan Vartabedian, MD, detailed the challenges posed by telemedicine to his pediatric practice in an article published by 33 Charts: 

“I’ve identified that the emotional stress of subtly strained connection is a huge contributor to the exhaustion I feel,” he wrote. “A video connection negates the subtleties of connection that are critical to my assessment of a parent and child.”

Related: How clinicians can confront public health issues

Six tips to alleviate telemedicine fatigue

How can doctors minimize the negative effects of telemedicine for optimal use? We suggest the following:

  1. Prioritize preparation. Eliminate potential distractions in your space by having plans in place to deal with dogs, children, lighting issues, and phone notifications before stepping into your first Zoom meeting of the day. recommends hanging makeshift “Do Not Disturb” signs when you’re in session at home. Declutter your background to avoid visual noise and reflect your professionalism. 

  2. Get tech-savvy. Spend time with your video chatting software. Get to know the ins and outs of the program to use it as effectively as possible—which includes setting aside time to mess it up, and discover solutions to common technical bugs. Remember to document them for future use.

  3. Watch out for your eyes. Avoid visual strain by using the biggest screen available. A TV screen is optimal. Adjust the brightness on your screen to mimic the brightness of the room, as noted by Start implementing eye exercises when you have a moment: Close your eyes and rotate them in circles, to the left and then the right. Take a deep breath and reset.

  4. Use ergonomic hacks. Comfortable furniture is a must-have for long work days on your computer. To avoid aches and pains, toy with your furniture’s settings until your posture feels comfortably and sustainably supported. A standing desk or orthopedic chair may come in handy.

  5. Connect with colleagues. The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests carving out time for small talk with coworkers on Zoom. Instead of rushing through virtual work meetings—which can lead to feelings of isolation—try to mimic the social format of an in-person shift. Use Zoom’s breakout room feature to chat with colleagues about non-work related topics, such as sports, music, or movies.

  6. Take breaks. You have permission to stop every once in a while. Get up, rest your eyes, and walk around your office in between sessions. Both the APA and recommend movement as a means of breaking up the work day and caring for your body. If you lack easy access to the outdoors, try breathing exercises, simple stretches, and a short meditation before your next call.  

What this means for you

Telemedicine provides patients the opportunity to speak with doctors from the comfort and safety of their homes. However, physicians face fatigue and potential burnout due to prolonged work hours, the need to remain present on screen at all times, lack of non-verbal patient cues, and feelings of isolation. To alleviate telemedicine fatigue, prepare your space to eliminate distractions, adjust your screen settings to work better for you, schedule breaks, and include time for small talk between colleagues.

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  1. Bennett, A. Videoconferences more exhausting when participants don’t feel group belonging. American Psychological Association. 2021.

  2. Gomez T, Anaya YB, Shih KJ, Tarn DM. A qualitative study of primary care physicians’ experiences with telemedicine during covid-19. Journal of the American Board Family Medicine. 2021;34(Supplement):S61-S70.

  3. Maheu D. Zoom fatigue: what you can do about it. 2020.

  4. Vartabedian, B. Telemedicine fatigue and the stress of remote care. 33 Charts. 2020.

  5. What is Telemedicine in a non-US Setting. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020.

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