What Do Doctors Really Do All Day?

Ever wondered what your primary care physician is doing when they’re not seeing patients. Quite a lot, says a new study that breaks down the daily tasks faced by doctors at a small family practice.

Dr. Richard Baron and his colleagues at their Philadelphia practice studied the data in their electronic health record and recently published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In addition to seeing an average of 18.1 patients/day, each day the doctors in the study:

* Received and made an average of 23.7 telephone calls “of sufficient clinical import to engage a physician,” almost 80% of which were handled directly by the doctor.

* Averaged 16.8 e-mails. 59.3% for interpreting test results, 21.7% for responding to patients, 9.3% for administrative problems, 5.0% for acute problems, 2.8% for proactive outreach to patients, 1.9% for discussions with consultants.

* Processed 12.1 prescription refills, not including those as part of a patient visit.

* Reviewed 19.5 lab reports

* Reviewed 11.1 imaging reports

* Reviewed 13.9 consult reports

And of course the reviewing of the above reports all involves updating of patient records, as well as communicating with both the patients and those who provided the reports.

The study said that the physicians in this office averaged a 50-60 hour work week and that there were 3.5 members of support staff for every one physician.

What’s Keeping Us So Busy in Primary Care? A Snapshot from One Practice [NEJM via WSJ]