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US Physician EHR Burden = Less Clinical Focus, More Burnout

Summary: The electronic health record is now ubiquitous. Doctors complain about its time demands and its emphasis on billing. This review quantifies that burden – more than 4 hours per day, far higher than in countries with simpler insurance.

How much time do physicians spend in the EHR?
KevinMD
April 10, 2022
By Thrisha Gogineni, James G. Kahn, Sigal Maya

Doctors often find the Electronic Health Record (EHR) time-consuming and annoying. … We assembled evidence on hours dedicated to the EHR each day by physicians. The result is impressive – 4.5 hours.

Ninety percent of office-based physicians in the US use an EHR system. However, many report negative experiences. Two recent studies found that physician EHR effort lowers clinical focus and contributes to burnout. EHRs are often described as having poor usability and being unintuitive and inefficient, detracting from clinical focus and sometimes even leading to patient harm.  These systems also decrease collaboration and communication between doctors and nurses.

… To estimate the magnitude of EHR burden in the U.S. and potential savings with streamlined EHR function, we collated existing published evidence.

The figure summarizes what we found. Median daily physician EHR time ranged from 3.5 to six hours with the observation, log file, and web tracking methods. … The time burden of the EHR in US was significantly higher than in other countries where reported daily EHR time was one hour.

This is a striking amount of time.

Greater demands in the U.S. for billing and regulation related documentation contribute to the excess time burden of EHR systems compared with other countries.

Only half of a doctor’s day remains for direct clinical interactions with patients.

The essential lesson from this EHR evidence is that the time burden it imposes on physicians is substantial in the US, occupying hours that could otherwise be spent building truly meaningful relationships with patients (not “meaningful use” metrics!) and providing quality care.

Comment by: Jim Kahn

Doctors are forced to use the electronic health record, including entry of large amounts of clinically-irrelevant data, especially billing-related details about procedures and overly precise diagnostic codes. This degrades the clinical experience for doctor and patient alike.

This study (full disclosure: I’m an author) assembles evidence on the time burden. It is indeed large.

Although the EHR can improve access to medical information, it is a data-hungry beast that exacts a huge toll as measured in hours, clinical focus, communication quality, and quite likely clinical outcomes.

Single payer would permit us to streamline the EHR to focus on clinically relevant information, as in other wealthy countries.

(ps a podcast on this is coming, I’ll let you know)

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