Johns Hopkins economist: Regulatory burdens on physicians increase costs, hurt care quality

Doc computer
The clerical workload on doctors is contributing to increased costs and lower-quality care.

If Washington regulators want to make the healthcare system more efficient for both doctors and patients, they should take a hard look at the red tape wrapped around physicians, one economist argues.

Steve H. Hanke, a professor of applied economics at The Johns Hopkins University, wrote in a column for Forbes that the administrative burden on doctors, including paperwork and time with electronic health records, has played a significant role in skyrocketing healthcare costs and leads to lower-quality care.

Regulators are particularly interested in the healthcare industry because decisions made in patient care inherently carry risk, something regulators fear, Hanke wrote. So they create rigid systems to avoid risk, but the cost is instead to the providers who are forced into additional paperwork. The additional rules also allow regulators to add additional jobs for their peers, he adds, and dealing with a laundry list of regulations can leave physicians vulnerable to malpractice suits.

“After all those years in medical school and the big bucks to finance them, you are still just one missed checkbox away from a medical malpractice suit,” Hanke wrote.

RELATED: Study: EHRs bloat clerical workload for docs

A study from the American Medical Association found that for every hour doctors spend with patients, they spend two with EHRs or other desk work. After-hours work for physicians is also often dedicated to inputting data into EHRs or clinical quality reporting, the study found.

The amount of administrative work piled on doctors has left many feeling burned out and like they don’t get to spend enough time with patients. More than half of physicians have considered leaving the field of medicine entirely, with the majority blaming the time spent with EHRs as a contributing factor, according to a recent survey.

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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has launched an initiative to reduce the amount of paperwork foisted on physicians. Doctors who feel overwhelmed by their administrative burden can adopt several strategies to reduce the weight of that burden, including spreading paperwork throughout the day instead of tackling it all at once.