Is all that EHR documentation causing physician burnout?

Doctors spend more than half of their time on EHRs and deskwork and only about 27 percent in direct clinical visits with patients. One researcher said the industry needs to refocus doctors' efforts from facing computer screens to engaging patients.
By Bernie Monegain
09:18 AM

For every hour physicians spend face-to-face with patients, they spend two more hours at the end of every day documenting what they discussed into the electronic health record, according to a time and motion study published in Annals of Internal Medicine. And researchers suggest the documentation workload might be adding to physician burnout.

“Time spent in meaningful interactions with patients is a powerful driver of physician career satisfaction, but increased paperwork and time on the computer mean less time for direct patient care,” the researchers wrote in an article. They added that while correlations between increases in EHR task load and physician burnout and attrition have been shown in the past, little quantitative data is available on how physicians spend their time.

For the study, researchers observed 57 U.S. physicians in four states to describe how their time was allocated in ambulatory practice. The physicians also kept diaries about their after-hours work.

[Also: Precision medicine: Analytics, data science and EHRs in the new age]

The researchers found that during the office day, physicians spent 27 percent of their total time on direct clinical face time with patients and more than 49 percent of their time on EHRs and “deskwork.” In the exam room, physicians spent almost 53 percent of their time on direct clinical face time and 37 percent on EHRs and deskwork. After hours, physicians spent another one to two hours each night on clerical work, mostly related to EHRs.

The findings suggest that documentation support with either dictation or documentation assistant services may increase direct clinical face time with patients, the researchers conclude. The author of an accompanying editorial notes that both the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians have initiatives aimed at reducing administrative burdens so physicians can focus on patients – a way to restore joy to the practice of medicine.

“Now is the time to go beyond complaining about EHRs and other practice hassles and to make needed changes to the healthcare system that will redirect our focus from the computer screen to the patients and help us rediscover the joy of medicine,” wrote Susan Hingle, MD.

Twitter: @Bernie_HITN
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