Are Health Care Professionals Spending Too Much Time on Computers?

Physicians are spending twice as many hours maintaining electronic health records and other administrative tasks as they're spending face-to-face with patients.

Physicians are spending twice as many hours maintaining electronic health records and other administrative tasks as they’re spending face-to-face with patients, according to study results published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study surveyed physicians, having them keep close track of the hours they spent doing administrative work. The results also showed them spending an extra 1 to 2 hours doing that work during personal hours every evening.

It’s a small survey of just 57 physicians, so it’s not clear whether physicians nationwide are tallying up similar hours. But the finding adds weight to the concern that the burden of administrative work is a significant factor contributing to physician burnout. One potential solution: providing physicians with programs or employees to help them dictate or document their notes.

I’ve been hearing a similar complaint lately from many different health care providers: “I’m spending more time with the computer documenting my activities than I spend with my patients.” And it’s not just physicians, although it may be worse for them if this small study is representative of the profession. My own family physician recently sold his practice and went to part-time work so he could get away from the burden of paperwork and spend more time seeing patients—the reason he said he went into medicine in the first place.

Is this a problem that will correct itself as we improve system efficiencies and interconnectivity? That’s the hope we keep hearing, but few practitioners have yet to see it. My concern is that the caring part of heath care will be lost if we’re not vigilant. Frustrations stemming from the busywork may eventually get taken out on the patient. Or, we may end up shying away from patient interactions.

Some might say that this has already happened to the pharmacist in the chain pharmacy environment: “I’m so busy on the computer reconciling the right drug with the PBM that I don’t even feel like interacting with the patient. After all, isn’t that what we have technicians for?”

Sure, the practice model is built that way, but my concern is what the long-term consequences of this model will be. Will the pharmacists practicing within this framework today become comfortable in engaging direct patient care when the systems improve and pharmacists again have the time available to engage with patients?