Primary care EHR overload worse than many realize

Tethered to the EHR: Primary Care Physician Workload Assessment Using EHR Event Log Data and Time-Motion Observations

By Brian G. Arndt, M.D., John W. Beasley, M.D., Michelle D. Watkinson, M.P.H., Jonathan L. Temte, M.D., Ph.D., Wen-Jan Tuan, M.S., M.P.H., Christine A. Sinsky, M.D. and Valerie J. Gilchrist, M.D.
Annals of Family Medicine, September/October 2017

Primary care physicians spend nearly 2 hours on electronic health record (EHR) tasks per hour of direct patient care. Demand for non–face-to-face care, such as communication through a patient portal and administrative tasks, is increasing and contributing to burnout. The goal of this study was to assess time allocated by primary care physicians within the EHR as indicated by EHR user-event log data, both during clinic hours (defined as 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM Monday through Friday) and outside clinic hours.

From the Discussion

This study provides a validated mechanism for EHR task analysis using EHR system event logs to evaluate primary care physician workload. Our event logs indicate that family medicine physicians spend approximately 45% of their workday (4.5 hours) on the EHR. Direct observation data were consistent with this finding. The remaining 55% of the workday (5.5 hours) was spent on non-EHR activities such as direct patient care, team interactions and meetings, paperwork, e-mail, and other work. An additional 1.4 hours per day of EHR time was spent outside of clinic hours (before 8:00 AM or after 6:00 PM), including 51 minutes per weekend. This extra time equates to an average workday (excluding time providing care to patients in the hospital) of 11.4 hours, representing a considerable encroachment on physicians’ personal and family lives.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

This is serious. In this study, not only did primary care primary care physicians spend almost half of their clinic hours on electronic health records (EHRs), outside of clinic hours they spent an average of an additional 7 hours and 51 minutes - the equivalent of an extra workday per week. Does this investment in time provide enough direct patient benefit to warrant it? Of course not.

We would hope that a single payer system would address this problem, but there is risk that the public stewards would rely heavily on EHRs for administrative purposes and for current data-intensive information technology trends.

Hopefully shifting the culture from the business-oriented medical/industrial complex to a patient-service environment, as should occur with implementation of a well-designed single payer system, would cause the stewards to wake up and take a serious look at such wasteful services that induce physician/nurse burnout and patient malcontentment.

Clearly, we cannot allow this to continue.

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