Physician EHR use has exploded, study finds

Physicians have been spending nearly three more hours a week on EHR documentation since the pandemic, highlighting the need for health systems to help lighten their digital loads, a new study found.

Physicians now spend 5.46 hours per eight patient scheduled hours in the EHR, up from 4.53 before the pandemic, according to the study of 1,052 ambulatory physicians at San Francisco-based UCSF Health. Meanwhile, their time spent outside of patient scheduled hours in the EHR grew from 4.29 to 5.34 hours per week and overall documentation time increased from 6.35 to 8.18 hours.

In addition, the average number of weekly messages received from patients nearly doubled (from 16.76 to 30.33) while the number of messages sent more than doubled (from 13.82 to 29.83), per the study published Oct. 30 in JAMA Internal Medicine. Telehealth and hybrid care were associated with more EHR use than face-to-face visits, while telehealth only was associated with fewer messages sent to patients vs. all in-person.

Health systems may need to alter their expectations for physician productivity and find ways to relieve EHR documentation burden, the authors noted.

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