Primary care physicians spend almost 6 hours — more than half their workday — working on electronic health records, according to findings recently published in the Annals of Family Medicine.
Researchers noted that reducing this amount would yield many benefits, including lowering the risk for physician burnout.
“Before the EHR era, a physician could go to work and deal with the tasks at hand for the day and leave work behind once there was a sense that all that needed to be done was done,” Brian G. Arndt, MD, of the department of family medicine and community health, University of Wisconsin, told Healio Family Medicine in an interview. “In the EHR era, it can be paralyzing for a physician to feel that the work never stops, since the EHR is always on and open for business. This is obviously a potential contributor to personal-professional integration in terms of work-life balance.
“However, we need to move past the concept that everything EHR is bad. Our research [took] a deeper dive into what exactly physicians do and when they do it,” he continued.
Arndt and colleagues utilized user-event log data associated with the provision of direct patient care and assorted, nonconcurrent duties during and after clinic work hours. More than 118 million individual EHR system event log record events from 142 family medicine physicians during a 3-year period were analyzed.
Results indicated that the mean total EHR time per weekday for a 1.0 clinical full-time equivalent was 5.9 hours — 4.5 hours while the clinic was open and 1.4 hours after the clinic was closed — which was more than half of the 11.4-hour workday. In addition, administrative and clerical tasks, such as system security, billing and coding, order entry and documentation, took up 44.2% of the total EHR time, and inbox management took up 23.7% of the total EHR time.
“Although I anticipated a big portion of the day was spent interacting with the EHR, I sincerely didn't think it was more than half. However, the way EHRs have been incorporated into practice is often at the root cause of the inefficiency associated with them,” Arndt said. “We hope [this research] helps set up a framework for a practical dialogue between patients, physicians, health care administrators, government, EHR vendors and other important stakeholders. Changes are needed from both a technology and workflow standpoint, as some of our challenges are self-imposed and not a fault of the EHR technology itself.”
The researchers also suggested using EHR event logs to ascertain areas of work that can be assigned to others, thus reducing workload, improving professional satisfaction and decreasing burnout. – by Janel Miller
The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.