Primary care physicians who used "physician partners" colleagues who performed administrative duties such as EHR data entry during a patient visit saved significant time during a typical four-hour stretch, according to a new study by UCLA researchers.
The physician partner was a new position created at UCLA. The partners worked alongside the physicians during patient visits and participated in team huddles, transcribed physician comments into patients' records, pulled patient information from computer records, completed lab and referral requests, processed new prescriptions or medication refills, updated patient medication lists, scheduled follow-up appointments and provided patients with their visit summaries.
The benefits of using a partner were especially significant for geriatricians, the report found. From November 2012 through June 2013, five physicians in two academic practices three geriatricians and two general internists each utilized physician partners over a total of 326 four-hour clinic sessions.
The physician partners were particularly beneficial for geriatricians, whose visits with patients averaged 2.8 minutes shorter with the partners than without them. Geriatricians also saved an average of 28.8 minutes over the four-hour sessions with the physician partners, compared with doctors who did not have a partner. By contrast, sessions for the doctors lacking a physician partner ran long by an average of 8.1 minutes.
The length of patient visits for the general internists who had a partner was not significantly shorter. These physicians did, however, spend less time between patients on visit preparation and note-writing, which allowed them to catch up on other work, such as returning calls and dealing with clinical issues involving patients who were not in the office. As a result, they saved nearly 40 minutes during the four-hour sessions and had essentially no paperwork remaining at the end of the sessions.
Among patients, 79 percent thought the physician partners contributed toward making their visit run smoothly, and only 18 percent were uncomfortable with the partners' presence. In addition, 88 percent of the patients whose doctors had a physician partner in the room strongly agreed that their physician spent enough time with them, compared with 75 percent whose physicians did not have a partner.
The study is limited by the fact that only five doctors in two practices at one academic health center participated in the study, and there were too few doctors to statistically analyze satisfaction and burnout scales, the researchers note. Also, the geriatric patients were more likely to feel comfortable with the physician partners in the room than the general medicine patients, perhaps because older patients are more accustomed to having someone else, such as a caregiver or family member, in the room during their doctor visits. Also, the researchers did not evaluate the quality of care the patients received.
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