Let’s leave clerical work to administrators


On an ordinary day last month, I saw patients for eight and a half hours. I addressed a dozen computer messages, took four or five calls from outside providers and held innumerable curbside conversations with medical assistants, case managers and colleagues.

I didn’t get to any of the 100+ lab results or 50+ documents in my electronic inboxes. Consequently, the care for several dozens of my patients didn’t move forward.

Many of them didn’t get the news that their blood tests, mammograms or CT scans were normal; some never got scheduled for follow-up visits to discuss options based on their mildly abnormal studies. And a few didn’t get their highly abnormal tests acted on. Others didn’t get their annual eye exams logged in their diabetic flow sheet.

This happened because I am the official bottleneck under the “workflow” dictated by our electronic medical record.

My last office note might say, “Follow up to review results.” But if I am late getting through my inbox, the administrative task of scheduling that appointment doesn’t happen.

It’s a little bit like having me answer our clinic’s telephone. Or a presumptuous analogy, the President opening the mail and then forwarding each item to the proper cabinet secretary.

Because every piece of data in a medical office has an ordering provider or a provider of record, it seemed like an EMR no-brainer to send everything to that person. But I think someone forgot that the current primary care business model is based on each medical provider cranking out as many visits per day as is humanly possible. That makes desk work a money losing activity.

With all the talk about having everyone in the medical office work to the top of their license, I think it is high time we turn the virtual mail sorting workflow on its head:

Have non-providers check incoming reports and lab test against existing treatment plans with cut-offs for when to interrupt providers, and give the providers more time to provide care and make medical judgments. A lot of information comes into the primary care office so that we can maintain a record of patients’ care. It isn’t necessarily imperative to have the physician read a seven-page specialist report to find one relevant medication change that needs to be updated in a patient’s record. That is what we used to call “secretarial work” in the old days, but that word and concept, Dear Health Care Industry Comrades, seems to be taboo these days.

So, back to my reality: Last night, after cleaning the horse stalls, I spent almost two hours going through my backlog of reports. At least I was able to do my work from home, in the company of my horses, but I keep feeling that I am making up for a system that isn’t all that well designed on a daily basis.

“A Country Doctor” is a family physician who blogs at A Country Doctor Writes:.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com


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