As we spend a significant amount of our lives in the modern workforce, it’s not unusual to come across situations that can cause gradual desensitization. Healthcare professionals are not immune to this, regardless of their role. Whether you’re a physician dealing with life and death situations, an auditor or coder reading through countless notes of the sick and injured, or an office worker trying to keep up with a constant influx of emails, becoming desensitized to the demands of your job is a real and widespread concern.

What is Desensitization?

My family and I recently took in a foster dog from a rescue. We hired a behavioralist to help our pack adjust to the new addition. The behavioralist’s techniques are common sense, but one key strategy is desensitization. This process involves becoming less responsive or sensitive to stimuli over time, which helps with animal training. While putting this into practice with our new arrival, Lucy, it began to become a thought I couldn’t shake. So many have become desensitized in their job role, which is rarely advantageous to our job performance, and no job title is exempt.

Desensitization occurs when an individual is repeatedly exposed to stressful, emotionally charged, or challenging situations. Over time, this can lead to a gradual numbing or a hardness toward our roles as it may become harder to feel empathy or compassion towards others. Desensitization can negatively affect job performance and overall well-being, including increased stress levels and a reduced ability to cope with difficult situations.

Desensitization with Providers

Unfortunately, physicians and qualified non-physician providers may become desensitized in their roles depending on the rate at which they may see high-risk and high-complexity patients. This isn’t just during a pandemic or acute care hospital setting. Desensitization impacts internal medicine providers seeing patients with multiple comorbidities, especially those patients who are not compliant with their treatment plans. Typically, this does not impact patient care but the quality of the documentation over time.

Healthcare professionals, the backbone of our healthcare system, are invested in improving the health of their patients day in and day out. However, the nature of their job puts them at risk of becoming desensitized, especially those caring for high-risk and high-complexity patients, which not only includes those working in acute care settings but also those caring for patients with multiple chronic progressing issues. It is important to acknowledge that even the most dedicated healthcare providers can become desensitized over time, and while this may rarely impact patient care, it may lead to a decline in the quality of documentation. That’s why it’s crucial to recognize the signs of desensitization and take proactive steps.

Desensitization with Billing & Coding Teams

Maintaining a fair and impartial view of documentation is crucial in the world of billing and coding. Desensitization, unfortunately, can lead to a biased or discriminatory review of the documentation which may impact the accuracy of medical billing and coding. Desensitization can lead to a decrease in the coder’s ability to accurately and comprehensively code medical records. When they become detached from their role and purpose in the organization, which is to support the providers for correct and accurate coding and billing, they may miss important details or make coding errors.

Desensitization with Physician Practice Managers

When a medical office manager becomes desensitized in their interactions with their providers, it can have various negative impacts on the medical office, the staff, and the overall work environment, as it may lead to a breakdown in effective communication between the medical office manager and the physician. When the manager becomes emotionally detached, it can hinder their ability to relay important information, instructions, or concerns to the physician, potentially resulting in misunderstandings and miscommunication.

Additionally, it can lead to a loss of trust and even mutual respect. A desensitized medical office manager may appear disinterested or indifferent toward the concerns and needs of the physician. This can erode trust and respect within the professional relationship, making it difficult to collaborate effectively. The behavior of the office management can set the tone for the entire medical office. If employees witness a manager who is emotionally distant or indifferent, it can lead to decreased morale among staff members, affecting their job satisfaction and productivity.

Consequences of Becoming Desensitized

Desensitized staff may become less attentive to compliance with coding guidelines and ethical standards. This can result not only in poor coding practices that prioritize financial loss or gain but also in a potential misrepresentation of the patient’s medical condition in the documentation.

Patient Misclassification: When a provider is desensitized, they may fail to adequately define the severity and complexity of a patient’s condition or the risk involved with their treatment. This impacts the coding and billing as it can lead to under-coding or under-valuing the work performed during the encounter. This then impacts not only the reimbursement of the service but also can affect the patient’s long-term health objectives if other care providers review the documentation.

Legal and Regulatory Risks: Desensitized staff may inadvertently engage in fraudulent practices, which can result in legal and regulatory risks for both the coder and the healthcare organization. This can lead to fines, penalties, and damage to the organization’s reputation.

Desensitization can also take an emotional toll on your team. The constant exposure to high-volume demands, sensitive medical information, and the pressures of fines, risks, and penalties can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, and mental health issues.

Becoming desensitized in your job is a genuine occupational hazard that can have profound implications for your emotional well-being, job satisfaction, and overall effectiveness. It’s essential to recognize the signs of desensitization and take proactive steps. To mitigate the impacts of desensitization among medical professionals, healthcare organizations should prioritize employee well-being, provide ongoing training and support, and maintain a culture of ethical coding practices. Regular audits and quality checks can also help identify and address coding inaccuracies resulting from desensitization.


If you would like guidance on these areas or other matters related to the healthcare industry, our executive contacts are available to assist. Contact Shannon DeConda via email at [email protected], call 800-635-4040, or visit our website at to learn more.

Shannon DeConda, CPC, CEMC, CEMA, CPMA, CRTT
Partner, DoctorsManagement, LLC
& Founder, NAMAS (National Alliance of Medical Auditing Specialists)


About DoctorsManagement

Founded in 1956, DoctorsManagement, a full-service healthcare consulting firm, helps practices of all sizes reduce compliance risks, increase physician practice profits, improve patient satisfaction and employee morale as well as reduce stress for physicians, managers, and staff. Our firm uses strategies that have been proven over five decades of experience and gives clients access to a team of nationally recognized industry experts in practically every area of medical practice management, including compliance, healthcare analytics, office management, coding, auditing, financial and accounting services, patient retention, human resources, and more.

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