Study: EHR users incur greater administrative burden

Electronic health records increase physicians' administrative burdens rather than decrease them as expected, according to an article in the International Journal of Health Services.

The researchers, professors of public health at the City University of New York and lecturers at Harvard Medical School, evaluated data from the Center of Studying Health System Change's 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey of 4,720 physicians of various specialties. They found that the average doctor spent 8.7 hours a week (16.6 percent of working hours) on administrative work. They also found that this burden lowered doctor's morale.

Moreover, the administrative burden was greater for physicians who used EHRs. About 17 percent of EHR users' working hours was spent on administrative work, compared to just 15.5 percent of working hours spent when using paper records. The administrative burden was highest for those who used both EHRs and paper records, at 18 percent. The researchers speculated that the increased administrative burden for EHR users stemmed from the fact that documentation takes longer when using an EHR and that some of the data entry related to billing, so it was perceived as administrative in nature even though it also related to patient care.   

"[O]ur analysis and previous studies suggest that U.S. doctors are devoting an increasing share of their work hours to administrative matters. If doctors' administrative time is valued at the same rate as their clinical hours, our findings imply that $102 billion was spent on physician administration in 2014 ... A simpler system could realize substantial savings, freeing up more resources to expand and improve coverage," according to the authors.

Interestingly, studies of more recent data reach the same conclusion despite increased familiarity with the systems. A recent study of 2012 data found that EHRs caused physicians to lose hours of time each week to EHR technology. A similar study found that EHRs worsened physician satisfaction.

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