For each patient visit, physicians spend about 16 minutes on EHRs, study finds

A doctor's hand on a keyboard
For each patient encounter, doctors average a little more than 16 minutes on the EHR. (Getty/BrianAJackson)

Physicians spend on average just over 16 minutes on electronic health records (EHRs) for each patient visit, according to a new study.

That adds up to a significant portion of a physician’s day, according to the study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study looked at about 100 million patient visits to 155,000 U.S. physicians and found they spend an average of 16 minutes and 14 seconds per patient encounter using EHRs, with chart review (33%), documentation (24%) and ordering (17%) accounting for most of the time.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Cerner Corporation, an EHR vendor, of users of its Millennium EHR platform. And like previous studies, the results showed physicians are spending a lot of time on EHRs.

“If anything, I would say, I'm pleased, given the findings of some previous studies, that the times weren't any longer than they were,” said the study’s lead author J. Marc Overhage, M.D., of the Cerner Corporation, in an email to FierceHealthcare.

RELATED: Primary care doctors spend more than 50% of workday on EHR tasks, American Medical Association study finds

But, particularly with regard to chart review time, Overhage said he thinks it is time well spent by physicians reviewing patient’s clinical results, observations and notes in the EHR. Time spent on documentation is more problematic, he said, and physicians are probably justified in their concerns about the time they spend with that task.

The study also found the time spent on EHRs varied greatly by specialty. For instance, doctors in gerontology, endocrinology, primary care, and internal medicine had the highest times per encounter of up to 18 to 22 minutes. Sports medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation (at 8 and 10 minutes per patient) were much lower.

Doctors also spent 11% of the time on EHRs “after-hours,” either on weekends or after 6 p.m. or before 6 a.m.

The study didn’t answer the question of whether time spent on EHRs was a good use of physician time. But given the fact the study looked at a large number of sites and specialties, it may be “the final word” on the question of how much time outpatient physicians spend on the EHR, said Julia Adler-Milstein, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, in an accompanying editorial.

It does raise questions that need further investigation about how to make the EHR a better tool, she said.

On that, Overhage said he thinks there is hope to reduce the time and improve the value of EHRs. Companies are using methods to reduce the documentation burden and the government is adopting policies to address the amount of data it requires, he said.

New technology will help, he said. Cerner, for example, has a product called Virtual Scribe that uses artificial intelligence and informatics methods to capture data from a physician-patient conversation and facilitate embedding the data into the documentation. “Others are working on similar tools and there are more advanced approaches in the wings,” Overhage said.

Time spent on EHRs is a major frustration for many doctors and a factor in physician burnout. An American Medical Association study last year found primary care physicians spend more than half of their workday interacting with electronic health records.

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