The State of our Health Care System Today

I wrote a short news article for NDNR recentlyabout how much time physicians spend working within electronic health record (EHR) systems during their workday. I thought I’d rewrite it for the readers of the NaturalPath, because I think it gives valuable context to the state of our health care system today, and possibly help us find compassion in our hearts for physicians who belong to a system of medicine many of us view as problematic, or downright criminal. This is in no way meant as a justification for the lack of care often shown by our big pharma driven medical system, but a glimpse of the human aspect of that system.

How Much Time do you Actually Spend Talking to Your Doctor?

There’s no doubt that physicians are overworked, and the manner in which many patients are seen is not conducive to “caring” for those patients; 6-10 minutes just isn’t enough. But did you know that roughly half, that’s right, 50% of a physician’s workday, which is usually about 12 hours, consists of working within an electronic sea of charts and forms, and communications with other medical professionals through a non-verbal closed communication system. We call it EHR, or electronic health records, and it is the bane of most primary care physicians’ work-life and contributes to burnout we see within the medical field in a major way. Most physicians are spending roughly 6 hours in EHR per workday, which includes time during clinic hours and after hours. And that’s not all, a lot of this time (almost 50%) is spent performing clerical tasks that are not directly related to the patient. An additional hour and a half is spent emailing.

EHR Promotes Inefficient Digital Communication Instead of Face to Face Verbal Interaction

This information comes from a recent study looking at physician burnout. The study explains that EHR is a significant factor of physician burnout. The frustration around the required time for documentation, and order entry are huge time factors that give little in satisfaction. In addition, EHR promotes an inefficient and distracting communication interface that advocates digital communication instead of face to face verbal interaction.

How can EHR work for us, instead of us working for the EHR?

The message from the authors of this article was that solutions to common problems linked to physician burnout in primary care, such as proactive planned care, team-based care, and the sharing of clerical tasks, all require better thought about EHR system applications. Perhaps the question we will be asking in the future is “how can EHR work for us, instead of us working for the EHR?”

Everyone Suffers, Both Patients and Physicians

Most physicians went into medicine because they care about people, and want to help people get through illness, and be healthy. The bitter truth of what they find is that this is not the case at all. Everyone suffers; The patient and the doctor, when systems are utilized that do not support the underlying mission and purpose of an occupation.

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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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