Emergency department physicians spend only 25% of their working time on direct patient care

Dan Med J. 2013 Jan;60(1):A4558.


Introduction: In modern hospital medicine, there is a growing awareness of the need for efficient and secure -patient care. Authorities seek to improve this by adding requirements for documentation, administrative tasks and standardized patient programmes. However, it is rarely investigated how much time physicians spend on these tasks and it is therefore difficult to assess how changes in the system might affect workflow and thus time efficacy. The aim of this study was to investigate how physicians in the emergency department (ED) of a public hospital in Denmark spend their time. Results were stratified for physicians working in the emergency room (ER) and the admission area of our ED.

Material and methods: We used a work sampling approach and observed nine physicians at three-minute -intervals for a total of 137 hours during day shifts. Activities were documented in predefined categories.

Results: Results showed that physicians spent 25% of their time in direct patient contact, 5.8% with indirect patient care, 24% communicating with other staff, 31% documenting their work and 6% on transport. Personal time ac-counted for 5% and other activities for 3%. Interestingly, no -differences in main categories were observed between -physicians admitting patients and physicians working in the fast track of the ER.

Conclusion: Our results confirm earlier studies. Furthermore, they suggest that the specialty, the severity of disease and the nature of the contact (in-patient versus out-patient) have only a minor influence on the time spent on various tasks. We speculate whether it is really administrative systems and IT-solutions that influence time distribution in physicians' work.

Funding: Not relevant.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01722721.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Denmark
  • Documentation / statistics & numerical data
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Patient Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physician's Role*
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data*
  • Time Factors
  • Time and Motion Studies
  • Workload

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01722721