Importance: The United States spends more than $12 billion annually on graduate medical education. Understanding how residents balance patient care and educational activities may provide insights into how the modern physician workforce is being trained.
Objective: To describe how first-year internal medicine residents (interns) allocate time while working on general medicine inpatient services.
Design, setting, and participants: Direct observational secondary analysis, including 6 US university-affiliated and community-based internal medicine programs in the mid-Atlantic region, of the Comparative Effectiveness of Models Optimizing Patient Safety and Resident Education (iCOMPARE) trial, a cluster-randomized trial comparing different duty-hour policies. A total of 194 weekday shifts were observed and time motion data were collected, sampled by daytime, nighttime, and call shifts in proportion to the distribution of shifts within each program from March 10 through May 31, 2016. Data were analyzed from June 1, 2016, through January 5, 2019.
Main outcomes and measures: Mean time spent in direct and indirect patient care, education, rounds, handoffs, and miscellaneous activities within a 24-hour period and in each of four 6-hour periods (morning, afternoon, evening, and night). Time spent multitasking, simultaneously engaged in combinations of direct patient care, indirect patient care, or education, and in subcategories of indirect patient care were tracked.
Results: A total of 80 interns (55% men; mean [SD] age, 28.7 [2.3] years) were observed across 194 shifts, totaling 2173 hours. A mean (SD) of 15.9 (0.7) hours of a 24-hour period (66%) was spent in indirect patient care, mostly interactions with the patient's medical record or documentation (mean [SD], 10.3 [0.7] hours; 43%). A mean (SD) of 3.0 (0.1) hours was spent in direct patient care (13%) and 1.8 (0.3) hours in education (7%). This pattern was consistent across the 4 periods of the day. Direct patient care and education frequently occurred when interns were performing indirect patient care. Multitasking with 2 or more indirect patient care activities occurred for a mean (SD) of 3.8 (0.4) hours (16%) of the day.
Conclusions and relevance: This study's findings suggest that within these US teaching programs, interns spend more time participating in indirect patient care than interacting with patients or in dedicated educational activities. These findings provide an essential baseline measure for future efforts designed to improve the workday structure and experience of internal medicine trainees, without making a judgment on the current allocation of time.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02274818.