Shift MD time to direct care

We always hear about the need to hire more healthcare practitioners for more patients to be seen, but no one ever talks about increasing patient exposure time among existing doctors, nurses and allied health workers.

A recent time-motion study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine involved two leading medical centres and internal medicine specialists who agreed to be followed to see how they spent their time in hospitals.

Overall, only 12 per cent of their time was spent in direct primary care, while 64 per cent was used for documentation that included talking to other providers, reviewing charts and writing notes. As well, 15 per cent of their time was allocated for educational activities, and nine per cent for eating, socializing and miscellaneous other activities. The average time spent with a patient was eight minutes.

At this point, no one should underestimate the value of documentation. However, when the time spent on charting exceeds direct patient contact by a five-to-one ratio, something is wrong. In fact, this study is so important that it was commented upon by the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the review, Dr. Abigail Zuger commented that, “The distressing paucity of time that doctors spend with their patients is not a new phenomenon.” Although electronic medical records have been heralded as saviours to healthcare systems and touted to improve outcomes, Zuger suggests that valuable physician time is now being prioritized toward computers instead of patients. As with everything, a proper balance is required. Zuger concludes that this delicate balance now has tilted toward documentation and, as such, “things are clearly moving in the wrong direction.”

A similar study involving three teaching hospitals was published in General Medicine. It showed that 15 per cent to 26 per cent of physician time in hospitals was devoted toward patient evaluation, while 20 per cent to 38 per cent was devoted to communication or charting, and as much as 12 per cent was devoted to procedures that could have been handled by non-physicians. Most importantly, 24 per cent to 49 per cent of physician time in hospitals had absolutely nothing to do with patient care.

The results are worse at night. A study published in Academic Medicine showed that internal medicine residents in hospitals spent 16 per cent of their on-call time with patients, 27.7 per cent was spent performing chart reviews and documentation, and 56.3 per cent of their time was allocated to things that had nothing to do with patients.

Let’s not focus exclusively on doctors. The results of monitoring nurses at 36 separate units were published in the Permanante Journal and the American Journal of Nursing. Only 26 per cent of nursing time was allocated towards direct patient care, while 74 per cent was spent on something else. Again, charting took up the bulk of that time, with 35 per cent of nursing activity directed toward documentation.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

About Concierge Medicine Journal

Concierge Medicine Journal (CMJ) curates breaking concierge medicine news, and editorial opinion on a wide variety of topics relevant to the practice of Concierge Medicine.

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