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DEMORALIZED: Alabama doctors are spending two-thirds of their time doing paperwork

A new study shows doctors are spending as much as two-thirds of their time doing paperwork. (Photo: Connor Tarter)
A new study shows doctors are spending as much as two-thirds of their time doing paperwork. (Photo: Connor Tarter)

Medical students push through a seemingly never-ending wave of classes in anatomy, biology, immunology, biochemistry and more, in hopes of graduating and having an opportunity to help people. But according to a new report, if medical school was more like the actual job of being a physician, students would be taking classes like “Advanced Form-filling,” “Intro to Government Mandates,” and “Patience 101,” in hopes of being able to endure the daily grind that includes very little time with patients.

A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that “for every hour physicians were seeing patients, they were spending nearly two additional hours on paperwork.” The same study in 2005 found that paperwork only consumed one-third of a physician’s time. So, in short, the amount of time it takes for doctors to complete all of their required paperwork has basically doubled in the time President Obama has been in office.

Forbes compared it to “telling LeBron James to spend the majority of his time manning the Cleveland Cavaliers ticket windows and phone lines.”

So where is all of this paperwork coming from?

First of all, according to Forbes, “administrators, lawyers, insurance companies, etc.,” are all asking for an increasing amount of paperwork to meet their own more stringent requirements–most of which come from the government. Secondly, “doctors are not designing much of the paperwork. Therefore, whoever is designing and requiring the paperwork has little clue on how to make doctors’ lives easier.” And third, “many doctors are not getting any help to do the paperwork. Hospitals and clinics do not seem to be investing in clerical and administrative support for doctors.”

Dr. Beverly Jordan, a family doctor based in Enterprise, Alabama, told Yellowhammer that increased filing requirements mandated by The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. ObamaCare) of 2010 are crushing doctors under an avalanche of paperwork.

“These government regulations create tons of paperwork for minimal purpose, when a quick note would provide the same info,” she explained. “The regulations were not written to make sure Electronic Medical Records would ‘talk to each other,’ so tons of time is spent searching for data that should be easy to find, which is the single most clinically useful part of having Electronic Medical Records to begin with.

“As a younger physician, I don’t remember the days when a quick one-line note would suffice, but I do remember when a half page was just fine,” she continued. “Now my average daily note on a patient is five pages, and I am no exception to the rule.”

The increasing paperwork burden on physicians is have a significant impact on their business.

“Anybody with a drop of business sense would be appalled at the redundancy and chaos of the paperwork physicians deal with,” said Dr. Jordan. “I have three staff members who do nothing but fill out forms, but most of it is mandated for the physician to complete, eliminating any chance for help. So I still spend easily two-thirds of my day completing paperwork.”

Even worse, evidence suggests that some physicians are becoming so disillusioned with the reporting requirements — particularly the Electronic Medical Records mandates — that they are leaving the field all together. A column in the Washington Post last year titled “Why doctors quit” accused the reporting mandates of “degrading medicine,” not so much because of the financial hit doctors have taken, but because the job itself has become that of a glorified clerical secretary.

“At this point there is way too much meaningless government regulation in healthcare that does nothing but get in between me and my patient,” Dr. Jordan said. “It does not provide for safer care, more cost effective care, or more efficient care. It does exactly the opposite.

“All of this paperwork takes time away from my patients and family,” she concluded.

Dr. Jordan probably could have gone into even more detail, but she needed to get some rest before getting up at 5 a.m. the following morning for — surprise, surprise — a training session on “the latest method of completing a certain paperwork in my office.”

“Then I’ll start seeing patients after that.”

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