Doctors spend a lot more time with their charts than with their patients.
To figure out just how much more time, the American Medical Association conducted a study published Tuesday that looked at how much time doctors spent during their day face-to-face with patients versus how much time they spent on electronic health records, administrative tasks, and other parts of their work day.
Of the 57 doctors the study looked at, about a quarter of their work day was spent with patients.
Nearly half of their day was spent doing desk work, or filling in electronic health records, the data that’s kept on a patient so that doctors can track their progress and remember key details, like what prescriptions a patient is on or any allergies they might have.
That means that for every one hour spent with patients, two hours are spent working on these health records. And for those who kept track of the work they did after-hours, about 1-2 hours of otherwise free time were spent doing EHR-related tasks.
While the sample of doctors used in the study was small, it was designed to represent a diverse range of practices (both primary care and in two specialties: orthopedics and cardiology) as much as possible. And the findings didn’t seem to shock many people in the industry. Electronic health records have been described as “clunky” and in need of some major improvements.
“[Christine] Sinsky and colleagues confirm what many practicing physicians have claimed: Electronic health records, in their current state, occupy a lot of physicians’ time and draw attention away from their direct interactions with patients and from their personal lives,” Dr. Susan Hingle, a professor at SIU School of Medicine, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study.
Jonathan Bush, the CEO of AthenaHealth, a health IT company that offers a cloud-based electronic health system said in a piece published Tuesday in Stat News that he didn’t find the study at all surprising.
“I wish I could say I was shocked by these results,” Bush wrote. “But they just add a fresh headline to old news, reinforcing what we already know too well: the more our country spends on traditional EHR software, the more time providers must spend on them, the more dissatisfied they become, the more frustrated patients feel, and the more expensive health care gets.” (Note that the study did not compare cloud-based software for electronic health records, like that offered by AthenaHealth, with more traditional systems.)
And while electronic health records were supposed to make doctors more efficient and make data-sharing between hospitals more streamlined, it has not quite gone as planned. Instead, EHRs may be one reason patients today are finding that they seem to have far less facetime with their doctors than they used to.
“These data document what physicians have long believed,” Hingle wrote. “The work of physicians has changed dramatically in recent years, at least partially due to EHRs.”
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