How much time do doctors spend on paperwork?

A common complaint is that doctors these days are spending more time doing clerical tasks.

Examples include filling out pre-authorization forms, talking to health plans for pre-certifications on imaging studies, and spending time jumping through bureaucratic hoops. Generally, you do not need a medical degree to do these tasks.

Bob Doherty points to a study that gives some numbers to back up the claims. Primary care doctors spend about 3.5 hours a week doing paperwork, compared to 2.1 hours for surgical specialists. Each doctor is backed up by clerical support staff, who do 7.2 hours of work per doctor daily.

That seems to be a lot of wasted time and money.

Mr. Doherty extrapolates the numbers further, and images the amount of time and money saved if paperwork was streamlined: “[It] could be enough to pay the annual health premiums for three families, multiplied by every practicing physician in the U.S, based on average premium cost of $12,000 per family. It would allow each primary care physician to see another four or five patients per week, thereby reducing wait times and easing the primary care shortage. It would increase primary care physicians’ incomes by an equivalent of $32,000 per year – more than many of the ideas for increasing primary care pay being considered by Congress.”

But before you can say “Medicare-for-all,” remember that the both Medicare and Medicaid have onerous paperwork requirements as well, at times exceeding the requirements of private plans. And with a public plan looming, it looks like the trend will be tilted towards more, not less, paperwork.