Study: American Doctors “Drowning in Paperwork”

November 5, 2014 DATAMARK

Non-patient-related paperwork is taking away nearly 9 hours a week that could be used caring for patients, according to a new study of U.S. doctors. And spending so much time on these kind of administrative tasks, such as billing, insurance approvals and personnel management is making physicians unhappy with their careers.

The nationwide study was conducted by Drs. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, professors of public health at the City University of New York, and published in the International Journal of Health Services, Volume 4, No. 4 / 2014. The researchers found that the average U.S. doctor spends 8.7 hours–about 17 percent of their working time–each week on administrative tasks and paperwork.

To conduct the study, Woolhandler and Himmelstein analyzed the most recent data available, gathered from the 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey of 4,720 physicians who practiced at least 20 hours a week.

In total, patient-care physicians spent 168 million hours on administration in 2008. Reflected in 2014 dollars, that amount of physician time would be worth a whopping $102 billion.

The study findings were shared in a recent press release from Physicians for a National Health Program, a nonprofit organization of more than 19,000 doctors who support single-payer national health insurance. PNHP did not fund or support the study.

As the amount of time spent on administrative tasks increased, so did the amount of dissatisfaction reported by doctors in the study. For example, those that responded as “very dissatisfied” in career satisfaction spent about 21 percent of their time on administrative paperwork.

“American doctors are drowning in paperwork,” said Dr. Woolhandler “Our study almost certainly understates physicians’ current administrative burden. Since 2008, when the survey we analyzed was collected, tens of thousands of doctors have moved from small private practices with minimal bureaucracy in to giant group practices favored by insurers, more doctors are facing HMO-type incentives to deny care to their patients, a move that our data shows drives up administrative work.”

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