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Doctors said to spend half their time on computer tasks

April 8, 2017
  • Doctors spend about equal amounts of time seeing patients and working on a computer, a new study published in Health Affairs shows.
  • The researchers analyzed data on physicians’ time allocation patterns in more than 31 million EHR transactions from 2011 to 2014 recorded by 471 primary care doctors. On average, doctors spent 3.08 hours with patients and 3.17 hours on what the authors call desktop medicine.
  • Desktop medicines includes communicating with patients via a patient portal, responding to online requests for medical advice or prescription refills, ordering tests, sending staff messages and reviewing lab results, the authors say.

The study reflects what previous reports have shown. A study last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine found physicians spend just under half of their work day on EHR and administrative tasks, compared with just 27% of their time meeting one-on-one with patients.

The study could help to inform how physicians get paid.

“This method of analyzing physician work has far-reaching implications for payment reform,” the researchers say. “While it may be good or bad that physicians are spending more time documenting care and communicating with other staff members than they are in face-to-face visits with patients, that fact highlights the misalignment of a payment policy that reimburses only office visits, lab work and procedures while overlooking much of desktop medicine work.”

CMS plans to monitor physician practices who adopt the Comprehensive Primary Care Plus payment model to ensure high-quality care, the authors note. Access logs offer an easy way to evaluate how doctors are spending their time.

About 87% of office-based physicians in the U.S. use some form of EHR, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. Cardiologists have the highest rate of EHR adoption, at 95.6%, followed by neurologists (94.5%) and urologists (94%).

A growing number of healthcare leaders are seeking EHR add-ons to help reduce physician burnout and optimize use. In a recent survey, 68% of healthcare executives felt that adopting new technology and tools would improve clinician satisfaction.

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