Study: Physicians Spend 16 Minutes Per Patient Encounter Using EHRs

Jan. 16, 2020
Chart review, documentation and ordering functions accounted for the most of the time

The amount of time that providers spend using electronic health records (EHRs) to support the care delivery process has become a core concern for the U.S. healthcare system. Findings from a new study might only add fuel to that fire.

Researchers, including  David McCallie, Jr., M.D., a former executive at EHR giant Cerner Corp, found that physicians spend on average just over 16 minutes on EHRs for each patient visit.

This particular study—recently published in Annals of Internal Medicine—included data from approximately 100 million patient encounters with about 155 000 physicians from 417 health systems. The technology system used for the research was the Cerner Millennium EHR.

Physicians spent an average of 16 minutes and 14 seconds per encounter using EHRs, with chart review (33 percent), documentation (24 percent), and ordering (17 percent) functions accounting for most of the time, the findings revealed. The distribution of time spent by providers using EHRs varies greatly within specialty, while he proportion of time spent on various clinically focused functions was similar across specialties, researchers noted.

Back in 2016, a commonly referenced study , also published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that for every hour physicians provide direct clinical face time to patients, nearly two additional hours are spent on EHR and desk work within the clinic day.

The following year, research published in Health Affairs found that physicians spend essentially the same time seeing patients as they do on “desktop medicine.” The data showed that physicians logged an average of 3.08 hours on office visits and 3.17 hours on “desktop medicine” each day. Desktop medicine, according to that study’s authors, consists of activities such as communicating with patients through a secure patient portal, responding to patients’ online requests for prescription refills or medical advice, ordering tests, sending staff messages, and reviewing test results.

According to researchers in this latest study, “Given the potential effect on patient care and the high costs related to this time, particularly for medical specialists whose work is largely cognitive, these findings warrant more precise documentation of the time physicians invest in these clinically focused EHR functions.”

They added, “The time spent using EHRs to support care delivery constitutes a large portion of the physicians' day, and wide variation suggests opportunities to optimize systems and processes.”