Study: Doctors spend majority of appointments on electronic devices, but it’s not what you think

What are Electronic Health Records? The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology defines electronic health records as... ... a digital version of a patient's medical chart. EHRs can be shared in a secure manner with patients and other physicians. They contain current information about a patient's medications, treatment plans, allergies and immunizations, to name a few. The agency says EHRs are associated with improvements in patient care, diagnostics and cost savings.

Screen time may not be only getting in the way of your time with your family. A new study suggests doctors have been spending time in front of screens for the majority of their appointments.

But it’s not for the reason you may think.

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A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday revealed physicians spent an average of 16 minutes and 14 seconds of active time using electronic health records during each appointment. Doctors reviewed EHRs for chart reviews 33% of the time, spent 24% of their time on documentation and 17% of their time on ordering functions. Reuters reported that broke down to 5 minutes and 22 seconds spend on EHRs, 3 minutes and 51 seconds per patient on documentation, and an average of 2 minutes and 42 seconds ordering things like lab tests.

previous study published in the Annals of Family medicine noted the average doctor's visit lasts 17 minutes and 4 seconds.

The newly published study reviewed approximately 100 million patient encounters with 155,000 U.S. physicians from 417 health systems. It calculated data on how doctors spent their time on various tasks with electronic health records throughout 2018.

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“Chart review, documentation, ordering, etc. are all tasks that physicians have done for a very long time,” study co-author Dr. J. Marc Overhage told Reuters.

“EHRs have made some of that work much easier,” said Overhage, who conducted the study for Cerner Corporation. The company developed the EHR used in the study.

Forbes, which also reported on the study, emphasized it only accounted for the times doctors were actively scrolling or typing rather than simply being logged in to access patients' records. Noting the study doesn't specify what activities were done when ordering or reviewing patient documentation, Forbes reported it also only breaks down the quantity of time spent on the EHR rather than the quality.

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“We don’t know how much of the time is spent in valuable ways — doing more comprehensive documentation to create a more complete patient record, responding to alerts that reminded the physician to do something they might have otherwise forgotten, etc.,” Julia Adler-Milstein of the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, told Reuters.

She added that patients “should feel empowered to speak up” if they believe their physician overlooked something.

"It is, of course, important to maximize the efficiency with which physicians can care for patients," Overhage said according to Healios, a clinical information website for medical specialists. "The health care system also needs to be thoughtful about the tasks we ask physicians to do and which tasks other members of the care team, including the patient, can perform as well or better in order to free physicians to focus on their unique contributions."