When divided into tasks, their workday would look more or less like this: 14.1 hours a day for preventive care, 7.2 hours for patients with chronic diseases, 2.2 hours a day for patients with emergency cases, and 3.2 hours a day for document management.
“There is a huge gap between the care we have been trained for and the limits of a clinic workday,” says Justin Porter, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago and the co-author of the paper. “We have an ever-increasing set of guidelines, but clinic slots have not increased proportionately.”
Well-known, unsolved problem
It is not the first analysis that reveals discrepancies between the guidelines and a doctor’s time. In 2003, a study carried out by Duke University estimated that to provide an average population of patients with preventive treatment, a primary care physician would need 7.4 hours a day, and a study from 2005 carried out by Mount Sinai revealed that it would take 8.6 hours a day.
There is practically no time for other tasks. Even more alarming is that it’s impossible to improve the quality of healthcare because doctors are already dealing with a lack of time. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the shortfall of health workers will reach 15 million by 2030.
The new study goes one step further, considering all types of healthcare provided by a primary care physician – prevention, treatment of acute and chronic conditions – and administrative tasks. Researchers also determined that 65% of tasks in primary healthcare could be managed by other members of staff, while other studies show that many simple tasks could be automated, so a doctor could focus on more complicated analyses and being in touch with patients.
Besides that, also digitalization and AI could help. According to the study Administrative work consumes one-sixth of U.S. physicians’ working hours and lowers their career satisfaction, the average doctor spends 8.7 hours per week (16.6% of working hours) on administration. If digital health tools were well deployed, many of these administrative tasks could be reduced, releasing considerable doctors’ time.
The time pressure that doctors face has its consequences in the form of physician burnout and medical students leaving the profession. According to the researchers, the results explain why we do not see improvements in healthcare outcomes despite significant advances in medicine. Patients more often complain about doctors not giving them enough time or monitoring their condition. The reason is lack of time.
The solution is to automate paperwork, support clinical decisions, give patients the digital tools to help them manage their own health, telecare and telemonitoring. Otherwise, it will be challenging to deal with the healthcare professionals shortage crisis.