Email fatigue leads to lost physician productivity

A new paper says “metastasis of email at an academic medical center” may cost millions of dollars.

A pediatrician from the Penn State College of Medicine kept track of all of his emails for an academic year and found that 2035 mass distribution emails were received. They originated from the medical center in 1501, the department in 450, and the university in 84.

The emails were about information technology, academic and professional development, social events, and a combination of clinical care, research, or education.

Here’s the fun part.

Assuming it took 30 seconds to read each email and based on the average salary of a doctor at their institution, the cost comes to about $1641 per physician. Since there were 629 employed doctors, that’s more than $1 million worth of time lost. If reading an email takes 90 seconds, multiply that by 3.

The paper points out that the barrage of emails is distracting, and important information may be overlooked. A new term “email fatigue” was coined.

They suggested several possible solutions to the problem, which probably wouldn’t work and won’t be tried anyway.

Like having a child, using email requires no license or training of any kind. Anyone with a computer or phone and an Internet connection can send an email.

Unfortunately, the ubiquitous practice of clueless people clicking “reply all” when responding to every mass email, resulting in even more wasted time, was not addressed.

Sometimes I’m not sure they’re really clueless. I think some people believe they are so important, so widely admired that they feel they must let everyone know that they will attend the next meeting of the task force to decide which brand of ketchup the cafeteria will carry.

“Skeptical Scalpel” is a surgeon blogs at his self-titled site, Skeptical Scalpel.

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