Primary-care docs' days packed with uncompensated tasks

We've known anecdotally that primary-care physicians perform a great deal of uncompensated work. But a close look into the days of five Philadelphia PCPs breaks it down into numbers that surprised even the doctors doing the work.

In a typical day of a 50-60 hour workweek, the internal medicine group's physicians:

  • see 18 patients;
  • receive 24 phone calls;
  • get 17 emails;
  • process 12 prescription refills; and
  • review 20 lab reports, 11 diagnostic imaging reports and 14 reports from consulting physicians and others.

The practice, which serves a socioeconomically diverse patient population of about 8,500 in Philadelphia's Mount Airy neighborhood, tabulated the data using its electronic health record, which it began using in 2004. Although it is unknown whether the group is statistically representative of primary-care practices in high demand throughout the country, internist Richard Baron, MD, who shared his findings in today's New England Journal of Medicine, said that he believes the demands and activities described in the article are typical of primary-care practices.

Although health reform focuses heavily on primary care, the current reality of a PCP's high workload and low-end compensation makes the hastening physician shortage in primary care that much less surprising.

While acknowledging that responding to calls and emails is part of PCPs' work, Baron's shares with USA Today a message to healthcare policymakers and payers: "The way you pay us doesn't work for the work we actually need to do."

To learn more:
- read this Washington Post article
- check out the NEJM abstract
- read this USA Today piece
- read this New York Times article