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EHRs Eat Up Half of Physician Time, But Help Could Be on the Way

If you feel like you are spending half your time entering information into your practice’s electronic health record (EHR), you are not alone.

A study published in Annals of Family Medicine reports that primary care physicians spend more than half of their workday interacting with the EHR during and after clinic hours.

The University of Wisconsin-led study employed data from EHR event logs and confirmed it by direct observation data to reach their conclusions.

Results include the following:

  • Physicians spent 5.9 hours of an 11.4-hour workday in the EHR, including 4.5 hours during clinic hours and 1.4 hours after hours.
  • Forty-four percent of their total EHR time per day was devoted to clerical tasks, with an additional 24% managing the inbox.
  • Time of day on weekdays and weekend affected time spent on EHR activities; weekend EHR work peaked around 10 am and 10 pm.

EHRs contribute to increased workload and subsequent physician burnout, according to study authors. Key contributors are the amount of time required for documentation (84 minutes) and order entry (43 minutes). Communicating with team members through the EHR instead of verbally also increases inefficiency and is a distraction, the researchers pointed out.

A possible solution is for primary care physicians to employ scribes, according to another study published in the same journal.

Research from Stanford University School of Medicine found that use of scribes to document patient encounters — in real time under supervision — significantly improves physician satisfaction without affecting how patients feel about their visit.

For this study, the first randomized, controlled trial conducted over 12 months, family physicians were randomized to one week in which scribes drafted all relevant documentation, which was reviewed and signed by the physician, followed by one week without a scribe in which physicians performed all charting duties.

Results indicated that scribes improved all aspects of physician satisfaction, including overall satisfaction and satisfaction with length of time with patients, time spent charting, chart quality, and chart accuracy. In fact, physicians said they were more satisfied with scribed charts than with their own.

At the same time, scribes did not decrease patient satisfaction. They also increased the proportion of charts that were completed within 48 hours.