Electronic health record logs indicate that physicians split time evenly between seeing patients and desktop medicine.
This study used data captured by the access time stamp functionality of an electronic health record (EHR) to examine physician work effort. This is a potentially powerful, yet unobtrusive, way to study physicians’ use of time. We used data on physicians’ time allocation patterns captured by over thirty-one million EHR transactions in the period 2011–14 recorded by 471 primary care physicians, who collectively worked on 765,129 patients’ EHRs.
Our results suggest that the physicians logged an average of 3.08 hours on office visits and 3.17 hours on desktop medicine each day. Desktop medicine consists of activities such as communicating with patients through a secure patient portal, responding to patients’ online requests for prescription refills or medical advice, ordering tests, sending staff messages, and reviewing test results. Over time, log records from physicians showed a decline in the time allocated to face-to-face visits, accompanied by an increase in time allocated to desktop medicine.
Staffing and scheduling in the physician’s office, as well as provider payment models for primary care practice, should account for these desktop medicine efforts.