Family doctors spend 86 minutes of “pajama time” tethered to their electronic health records (EHRs), according to a study published last week in the Annals of Family Medicine. While the findings raise concerns about professional burnout as physicians spend more time on bureaucratic tasks, mHealth may offer part of the solution.

The study used three years of event-logging data to track the workdays of 142 family physicians using an Epic Systems EHR at the University of Wisconsin’s medical school and engineering department. The findings are shocking but consistent with existing data – primary care physicians spend half of their work day interacting with the EHR, and nearly a quarter of that computer time is after clinic hours.

It’s worth taking a moment to digest these numbers. Based on objective measures of their computer use, doctors spent an average of 5.9 hours out of an 11.4-hour workday working with the EHR, including 1.4 hours after work. Imagine what else a busy family doctor could do with those 86 minutes every weeknight. That’s enough time to cook and eat a nice meal, go to your kid’s soccer game or even watch the longest episode of Game of Thrones – in your pajamas.

Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2017

Family doctors’ free time aside, the study confirms a trend that doctors and analysts are all to aware of. Since EHRs became widespread physicians are spending more time on bureaucratic tasks like logging information, writing medication orders and managing their inbox.A 2016 study found that physicians spent 49.2 percent of their office day on EHRs and other desk work, and authors attributed a loss of time with patients to higher rates of professional burnout. In 2017, 57 percent of doctors reported spending at least 10 hours per week on paperwork, up from 35 percent in 2014.

On their website, lists one of the benefits of EHRs as “helping providers improve productivity and work-life balance.” More time on the computer and less time with patients is definitely not what they had in mind when drafting Meaningful Use criteria back in 2009.

Primary care physicians spend half of their work day interacting with the EHR, and nearly a quarter of that computer time is after clinic hours.

So how can EHRs better fulfill their promise of making healthcare more effective and efficient?

One of the study’s co-authors, Christine Sinsky, MD, offers one answer. A practicing internist that has used EHRs for more than 15 years, she believes that EHRs have shifted work previously done by other team members to the physician.

“The most powerful intervention to increase direct clinical face time with patients is advanced team-based care where the physician is paired with a stable team of two or three clinical assistants,” Dr. Sinsky told AMA Wire. “In this model, one of the clinical assistants provides in-room support during the patient visit, performing real-time information retrieval, visit note documentation and pending of orders.”

Mobius MD offers a parallel software solution that uses smartphones to improve how medical offices connect to their EHR. In addition to aid from clinical assistants – or when having additional dedicated staff isn’t possible – the Mobius Clinic app can help doctors streamline their workflow by sharing tasks with staff, automating dictation and much more. This means fewer clicks at the computer and more time with patients.

Whether the solution is team-based care models or modern mobile tools like Mobius Clinic, it isn’t necessary for EHRs to consume 86 minutes of physicians’ “pajama time” every night. Learn how Mobius Clinic is already helping practitioners “get from their electronic health record what they wanted in the first place.”

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