Female doctors spend an extra 30 minutes completing electronic health records

By Michael Woodhead

8 Dec 2020

Female doctors spend half an hour more per a day completing electronic health record documentation compared to their male counterparts, a burden that may be contributing to burnout, US researchers say.

A review of IT system work patterns of a thousand physicians (39% female) over a two year period at an academic medical centre found that on an average day doctors overall spent 81 minutes on EHR  tasks.

However there was a sex-based disparity in EHR use, with female doctors spending 102 minutes per day on EHR compared to 69 minutes for males.

The differences were seen across all medical and surgical specialities and could not be explained by different working hours or number of patients seen, said researchers from Duke University School of Medicine.

There was also no difference in patient satisfaction reports for female vs male doctors at the centre, they reported in JAMA Internal Medicine..

The female-male difference of 33 minutes per day in EHR tasks would translate into almost three hours extra work per week and around three additional 40-hour working weeks a year, they noted.

Female doctors also spent more time on EHR tasks outside of scheduled working hours, with an average of 35 minutes per day compared to 234 minutes for male doctors.

But the study authors could not say what caused the difference in time spent on EHR tasks, as they did not measure any clinical variables or outcomes. The study also did not account for hours spent in other academic activities, such as education and research.

An accompanying commentary noted that similar research carried out in 2019 found different EHR usage patterns among female doctors, namely longer notes, more in-basket time and quicker responses, fewer same-day signed notes, and more time precharting .

The commentary authors said the findings raised several questions about the cultural and professional drivers leading these sex-based differences in total and after-hours time spent in EHR use.

This suggested a need to investigate how individual physicians interface with EHR, their sense of responsibility for completing records and balance pressures of seeing patients and also work-life balance, they said.

“A systematic effort is needed to train new physicians on optimal time management to empower them to balance manifold time constraints with minimal necessary documentation,” they wrote.

“Although most physicians feel the burden of increased time required for the EHR, the findings …  suggest that interventions designed to reduce time spent engaging with the EHR have the added potential to reduce sex-based disparities in medicine while also reducing a significant contributor to overall burnout for all physicians.”

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