Search Journal-type in search term and press enter
Social Media-Follow Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care on Facebook and Twitter
« Keep Your Politics Out of My Practice | Main | The VA Mission Act: Funding to Fail? »
Sunday
Jul152018

The Highest Paid Clerk

Physicians are the highest paid clerks in healthcare, but we only have ourselves to blame. At one time charts were often unavailable or illegible and x-rays or outside medical records were often missing. How we longed to have searchable records available. Now we have them but digital medicine has come at a cost. For every hour physicians spend with patients nearly two hours are spent with the electronic healthcare record (EHR) (1). Nurses in the hospital spend nearly as much time with the EHR (2). If a picture is worth a thousand words, the drawing by a 7-year-old depicting her visit to the doctor may say it best with the doctor staring at a computer with his back to the patient (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Drawing by a 7-year-old of her visit to the doctor (3).

The EHR has done some very positive things. It has reduced medication errors; it assembles laboratory and imaging information; it allows visualization of X-rays; the notes are always legible; and although introduction of an EHR results in an initial increase in mortality, there appears to be an eventual reduction (3,4). However, EHRs were not built to enhance patient care but to augment billing. Despite the effort that goes into collecting and recording data, much of the data is unseen or ignored (3). Our daily progress notes have become cut-and-paste spam monsters that are mostly irrelevant and nearly impossible to interpret. The diagnoses can be difficult to locate, the documentation for the diagnosis is often incomprehensible, and the plan is unintelligible. Of course, billings have increased but not due to improved care, but because of the electronic gobbledygook that serves as a record. 

Several other recent examples illustrate that doctors are viewed and being used mainly as clerks. I recently, applied to renew my hospital privileges. This involved completing about a 25-page on-line form to including uploaded documentation of all licenses, board certifications, CME hours, a TB skin test and a DTaP vaccination. For this privilege, not only are medical staff dues paid but a $100 fee needs to accompany the application. Pity the poor physician who goes to several hospitals. In our office every piece of paperwork is scanned into the computer and signed by the physician. This includes the insurance forms, notes from co-managing physicians, the prescriptions that I have written and signed, the pulmonary function tests that I have interpreted and signed, the scored Epworth sleepiness scales that the patient has completed and are included in my note, etc.

A recent court decision may further increase the physician clerical load. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a 4-to-3 decision ruled that a physician may not "fulfill through an intermediary the duty to provide sufficient information to obtain a patient's informed consent” (5). What this essentially means is that a physician, presumably the operating surgeon, must obtain an informed consent which usually involves signing a piece of paper. However, signing an informed consent form does not assure informed consent and the form’s main purpose is to protect the hospital or surgical center against litigation by shifting culpability to the surgeon. Now a surgeon must not only inform the patient about the operation but must have a form signed to protect the hospital and discuss every adverse outcome and all alternatives, a clearly impossible task. Will it be long before an unintelligible informed consent is required before prescribing an aspirin?

Many physicians, including myself, have resorted to voice recognition software using a template to generate notes due to increasing documentation requirements. Although this seems to decrease documentation time and increase face-to-face time with the patient, a recent article points out that voice recognition makes mistakes (6). Although there is little doubt that this is true, other documentation methods have their problems such as typographical errors, spelling errors, and omissions in documentation. Hopefully, a hullabaloo will not be made over voice recognition mistakes like was made over copying-and-pasting (7,8). Copy-and-paste errors seem to be mostly trivial and the information they contain is mostly for billing and probably does not need repeating in the medical record in the first place.

Physicians have cowered too long to insurer or hospital interests to avoid being labeled as “disruptive”. Many physicians would be happy to carefully proof every note or spend an hour getting the hospital’s informed consent form signed, but only if adequately compensated. Whining about physician lack of autonomy and increased clerical load either in the doctor’s lounge or in the pages of a medical journal will have no effect. The trend of shifting clerical workload to the healthcare providers will likely continue until either physicians refuse to do these clerical tasks or receive fair compensation for their services.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Verghese A. How tech can turn doctors into clerical workers. NY Times. May 16, 2018. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/05/16/magazine/health-issue-what-we-lose-with-data-driven-medicine.html (accessed 7/13/18).
  2. Stokowski LA. Electronic nursing documentation: Charting new territory. Medscape. September 12, 2013. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/810573_1 (accessed 7/13/18).
  3. Toll E. A piece of my mind. The cost of technology. JAMA. 2012 Jun 20;307(23):2497-8.
  4. Lin SC, Jha AK, Adler-Milstein J. Electronic health records associated with lower hospital mortality after systems have time to mature. Health Aff (Millwood). 2018 Jul;37(7):1128-35. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Fernandez Lynch H, Joffe S, Feldman EA. Informed consent and the role of the treating physician. N Engl J Med. 2018 Jun 21;378(25):2433-8. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  6. Zhou L, Blackley SV, Kowalski L, et al. Analysis of errors in dictated clinical documents assisted by speech recognition software and professional transcriptionists.  JAMA Network Open. 2018;1(3):e180530. [CrossRef]
  7. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Electronic Healthcare Provider. December 2015. Available at: https://www.cms.gov/Medicare-Medicaid-Coordination/Fraud-Prevention/Medicaid-Integrity-Education/Downloads/docmatters-ehr-providerfactsheet.pdf (accessed 7/13/18).
  8. The Joint Commission. Preventing copy-and-paste errors in EHRs. QuickSafety. February 2015. Available at: https://www.jointcommission.org/assets/1/23/Quick_Safety_Issue_10.pdf (accessed 7/13/18).

Cite as: Robbins RA. The highest paid clerk. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;17(1):32-4. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc089-18 PDF 

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>