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Independent practices spend nearly half of patient time on EHR documentation

Independent providers spend an average of 9 minutes on EHR documentation, compared to 18 minutes with patients.

Physician and EHR documentation

At a Glance

  • Independent providers spend nearly half of their patient time (9 minutes on average) on Electronic Health Record (EHR) documentation, which can negatively impact patient care and contribute to provider burnout.
  • Factors contributing to high EHR documentation time include system usability issues, inefficient processes, and lack of training and support, leading to hidden costs such as patient turnover and reduced revenue.
  • Strategies to reduce EHR documentation time include improving EHR usability, using pre-made or automated tools, and investing in training and support, which can help providers spend more time building patient relationships and improving overall care quality.

Electronic health record (EHR) software offers healthcare providers a convenient and compliant way to secure patient notes, prescribe medications, order labs, and make care delivery decisions. Studies, such as in the nursing journal SEANR or the Western Journal of Nursing Research, highlighted that these programs can increase efficiency. They can also reduce medication errors and boost patient satisfaction.

But there is a problem: For many providers, documentation significantly cuts into patient interaction time. 

In a recent Tebra survey about patient interaction time, providers reported spending 9 minutes per patient charting notes in their EHR software, while patient appointment times averaged 18 minutes. This article tackles the details:

  • How much time providers are really spending on documentation versus patient interactions
  • The impact on patient care
  • Strategies to optimize EHR documentation time

Providers spend 9 minutes on EHR documentation per patient

On average, providers spend approximately 9 minutes on charting notes. In the field, this translates into almost equal time spent on documentation and patient interaction time. Breaking down the time spent on EHR documentation by specialty, we can see a discrepancy between times:

  • Primary care providers: 64% spend anywhere between 6 to more than 20 minutes charting notes. 
  • Mental health providers: 74% spend 6 to over 20 minutes charting notes.
  • Specialists: 48% spent 6 to over 20 minutes on notes.
  • Nurse practitioners: 97% said they spent between 6 and over 20 minutes charting notes.

When looking at time spent on new patients, the amount is nearly equal to documentation times. Non-providers reported spending 5 minutes or less with new patients, with 100% of mental health providers stating they spent more than 20 minutes with patients. 

The same was true of returning patients, with the exception of specialists. While all providers reported spending less time with returning patients, 16% of specialists reported only spending 5 minutes or less on patient interaction time. 

Inefficient EHR use that takes time away from patient relationships can negatively impact patient outcomes and contribute to provider burnout. ”

When comparing the data, nearly a third of providers reported spending more than 20 minutes on EHR — a considerable number, considering the average patient interaction time was 9 minutes. 

But does spending more time charting notes matter?

It does, in a big way. Inefficient EHR use that takes time away from patient relationships can negatively impact patient outcomes and contribute to provider burnout.

Patient Perspectives Report

The impact of EHR documentation on patient care

Extensive EHR documentation cuts into patient time — but finding a way around the time suck can be challenging. Documentation is mandatory; there’s no way to cut it out. Furthermore, detailed notes are a must to treat patients better and avoid liability in the case of medical malpractice suits. 

However, as charting notes take up more time, it can now take up as much as half of a patient’s appointment time. This translates to significantly less scheduled time with patients. Not only does this limit your ability to build stronger relationships with patients, but it also increases the likelihood of overruling your appointments — especially when the top cause of appointment overruns is patient questions.  

Spending more time meticulously entering notes also adds to the provider’s workload and can lead to burnout. In Tebra’s recent survey, 72% said that patient time impacts job satisfaction, yet 82% said they feel more burnt-out inpatient appointments. EHR is certainly a factor, and when combined with the stress of seeing more and more patients a day, providers are facing more pressure than ever. 

EHR documentation could actually reduce this burden if implemented correctly. But before we get there, let’s look at how EHR could increase documentation time. 

3 main factors contributing to high EHR documentation time

Why does it take so long to chart notes? There are a few factors that significantly influence EHR documentation time. 

  1. System usability issues. Challenging software interfaces can slow down charting or result in redundancies and errors.
  2. Inefficient processes. Redundancies in the process — such as multiple intakes (often print and digital) and unclear past note reviews — can become time-consuming and confusing. Unstandardized carry-over notes, for example, can create chart confusion — especially with chronically ill patients who may have multiple providers.
  3. Lack of training and support. Insufficient training related to EHR systems can cause additional problems. Inadequate training has been shown to contribute to EHR inefficiencies and, overall, can create friction in the documentation process.

These considerations, among other minor contributors, can have serious consequences for patients and providers alike. 

The hidden costs of EHR documentation

Poor and inadequate documentation isn’t cheap. It can dramatically affect the bottom line. Spending more time on paperwork instead of patients can lead to inaccuracies, miscommunication, and mistrust among patients. As a result, independent practices can experience high patient turnover. 

In addition, an inefficient EHR can lead to scheduling problems and overrun appointments, tarnishing patient trust and reducing revenue flows.

An inefficient EHR can lead to scheduling problems and overrun appointments, tarnishing patient trust and reducing revenue flows. ”

EHR systems are still essential to running a successful office. However, if implemented poorly, they take time away from patient care and can hurt patient outcomes. Less time spent alone with patients is enough to affect healthcare outcomes and satisfaction. 

Strategies for reducing EHR documentation time

The good news is that it’s possible to streamline EHR documentation. This enables providers to shift time away from charting notes to spending more time forming sound patient relationships. 

Improving EHR usability is generally the first step in improving the process. Complex and challenging EHR software can significantly slow down the process. Selecting user-friendly EHR systems with an intuitive interface can help. Customization options are essential in this regard, as this can help practices align their documentation to their practice needs without sacrificing compliance. 

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Some EHR software — you probably have experienced it — is riddled with options upon options. Complex workflows for patient vitals, endless dropdown options for states and condition codes, and poor carryforward options all contribute to significant issues.

For example, legacy EHR software options are highly manual when it comes to data entry, appointments, charting, and billing. Modern EHR solutions, such as Tebra’s EHR, can streamline these workflows through automation, alerts, and integrations. These automated solutions often simplify the remaining workflow for providers and back office staff, making the entire program easier to navigate. 

Modern EHR solutions, such as Tebra’s EHR, can streamline workflows through automation, alerts, and integrations. ”

You’ll also want an EHR system that integrates with other aspects of your business — such as scheduling calendars and appointment reminders. 

Next, it can be useful to use pre-made or automated tools to help you streamline documentation. Some examples include chart templates or voice recognition tools. You may even make use of automatic transcription to summarize patient queries more quickly. 

Finally, it’s essential to invest in training and support. A healthy, intuitive EHR system should offer ongoing training and support options to help established and new providers navigate a constantly changing regulatory environment. Investigating case studies of similar practices that have increased efficiency can also provide insight into small tweaks your practice can make to improve your back-office processes. 

Boost EHR efficiency with more insights

Tebra’s 2024 survey on Patient Interaction Time highlights current challenges providers face regarding charting documentation and building patient relationships.

Check out the full report and learn how to optimize your back-office processes and create a seamless patient experience. 

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Kelsey Ray Banerjee

Kelsey Ray Banerjee is a professional content writer in the healthcare, marketing, and finance space. She has worked in the back office of a psychiatric practice, and with family members working in mental health for 2 generations, she understands the challenges healthcare professionals face when it comes to marketing and admin. She believes access to efficient healthcare is essential for society’s well-being, and loves being able to write content that can positively impact a practice and its patients.

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