Healthcare News & Insights

Study: Medical interns spend more time with computers than with patients

Among doctors’ complaints about electronic health records and other health IT is that they can take away time that would be spent treating and communicating with patients. Those physicians may have a point, according to a recent study of medical interns. 

emrMedical interns spend more than three times as many hours on computer-related tasks as they do interacting with patients, according to a recent study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

In January 2012, researchers tracked the time spent by 29 interns at two residency programs at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The results: The interns spent just 12% of their time on direct patient care, compared to 40% for computer activities. The latter included tasks such as filling out electronic forms, placing electronic orders and researching patient histories.

The authors of the study said the amount of time the interns spent with patients seemed “shockingly low,” pointing out that they spent half as much as time (6%) walking from place to place during their shifts.

How much is to blame on increased use of health IT is unknown. Researchers noted that similar studies conducted between 1989 and 1993 show that even at that point, medical interns spent more time on documentation than they spent face-to-face with patients. However, two decades ago interns did spend between 18% and 22% of their time directly treating patients.

One suggestion researchers had for shifting some of doctors’ time back to patients’ bed sides: improve EHR systems so they take less time to use.

Steps for hospitals

As for what hospitals can do, it’s important to choose an EHR system that’s easy to use — and offer adequate training for doctors.

In addition, experts recommend hospitals take these steps to keep technology from getting in between doctors and patients:

  1. Organize workspaces properly — If doctors will be using desktop computers to access EHRs in exam rooms, make sure those stations are set up in a way that makes it easier for the doctor to face and look at the patient while working on the computer.
  2. Use technology to increase interaction – Doctors should look for times like that when they can use the technology they have available to educate patients and get them more involved in their own care.
  3. Have doctors explain what’s happening — Making patients feel better about the change in doctor-patient interaction might be as simple as doctors explaining that although they will need to take time to type information into the EHR, they are still listening.

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