It’s practically become a mantra in healthcare: EHRs take up too much of physicians’ time.
But just how much time do doctors spend on EHR-related tasks? A new study out of the University of Wisconsin and the American Medical Association dug deeper.
From 2013 to 2016, researchers analyzed 142 family medicine physicians, all of whom used an Epic EHR, at a system in southern Wisconsin. All data was captured via EHR event log data during clinic hours (8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday) and non-clinic hours.
On average, the primary care physicians spent 5.9 hours out of their 11.4-hour workday in the EHR. Four and a half of those hours were during clinic hours and 1.4 hours were after clinic hours.
What’s just as surprising is what the physicians were spending their time on while in the EHR. The study found administrative tasks — like billing and coding, system security, order entry and documentation — accounted for 44.2 percent (157 minutes) of clinicians’ total EHR time per day. Another 23.7 percent (85 minutes) was spent on inbox management.
As the study, which is published in the Annals of Family Medicine, points out, such a copious amount of time spent on EHR tasks increases a physician’s workload and contributes to feelings of burnout.
In a comment regarding the study, AMA President Dr. David Barbe added to this sentiment:
This study reveals what many primary care physicians already know — data entry tasks associated with EHR systems are significantly cutting into available time for physicians to engage with patients. Unfortunately, clerical and administrative demands are not being reconciled with patient priorities and clinical workflow. Poorly-designed and implemented EHRs have physicians suffering from a growing sense that they are neglecting their patients and working more outside of clinic hours as they try to keep up with an overload of type-and-click tasks.
Because these problems are longstanding, researchers proposed a number of solutions that may help reduce the burden on PCPs. They include proactive planned care; sharing of clerical and administrative tasks; team-based care that involves expanding rooming protocols; verbal communication and shared inbox work; and improved team function.
The AMA came up with a similar list of priorities for improving EHR usability, including promoting data liquidity and facilitating digital and mobile patient engagement.
Studies like this shed light on the intensity of the healthcare system’s EHR usability problem. As time goes by, more and more organizations are taking note. In June, the Electronic Health Records Association held its second annual Shaping Usability of Health IT Summit, which focused on the need for improving interoperability and the efficiency of EHRs.