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Primary care docs spend a lot of time outside exam rooms

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What's keeping primary care physicians so busy? Philadelphia doctor Richard Baron, MD, aimed to answer that question by keeping track of all the things he and his colleagues do aside from see patients - work, he writes, that is "invisible to those who support and purchase primary care." As reported by the Health Blog, those daily tasks included:

  • 23.7 telephone calls, most of which the doc handled directly
  • 16.8 emails, most for interpreting test results
  • 12.1 prescription refills, not including those part of a patient visit
  • 19.5 lab reports
  • 11.1 imaging reports
  • 13.9 consult reports

And that’s on top of 18.1 patient visits.

The report, which appears in the New England Journal of Medicine, follows other research showing that physicians devote a lot of time to non-visit work. (A 2005 study, for example, found that nearly 50 percent of a primary care physician’s workday is spent outside the examination room.) But why is this important information? Baron writes:

At a time when the primary care system is collapsing and U.S. medical-school graduates are avoiding the field, it is urgent that we understand the actual work of primary care and find ways to support it. Our snapshot reveals both the magnitude of the challenge and the need for radical change in practice design and payment structure.

Photo by KOMUnews

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