Physician Time Spent Using the Electronic Health Record During Outpatient Encounters: A Descriptive Study

Ann Intern Med. 2020 Feb 4;172(3):169-174. doi: 10.7326/M18-3684. Epub 2020 Jan 14.


Background: The amount of time that providers spend using electronic health records (EHRs) to support the care delivery process is a concern for the U.S. health care system. Given the potential effect on patient care and the high costs related to this time, particularly for medical specialists whose work is largely cognitive, these findings warrant more precise documentation of the time physicians invest in these clinically focused EHR functions.

Objective: To describe how much time ambulatory medical subspecialists and primary care physicians across several U.S. care delivery systems spend on various EHR functions.

Design: Descriptive study.

Setting: U.S.-based, adult, nonsurgical, ambulatory practices using the Cerner Millennium EHR.

Participants: 155 000 U.S. physicians.

Measurements: Data were extracted from software log files in the Lights On Network (Cerner) during 2018 that totaled the time spent on each of the 13 clinically focused EHR functions. Averages per encounter by specialty were computed.

Results: This study included data from approximately 100 million patient encounters with about 155 000 physicians from 417 health systems. Physicians spent an average of 16 minutes and 14 seconds per encounter using EHRs, with chart review (33%), documentation (24%), and ordering (17%) functions accounting for most of the time. The distribution of time spent by providers using EHRs varies greatly within specialty. The proportion of time spent on various clinically focused functions was similar across specialties.

Limitation: Variation by health system could not be examined, and all providers used the same software.

Conclusion: The time spent using EHRs to support care delivery constitutes a large portion of the physicians' day, and wide variation suggests opportunities to optimize systems and processes.

Primary funding source: None.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care Facilities*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Documentation / statistics & numerical data
  • Electronic Health Records / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Medical Order Entry Systems
  • Office Visits*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Time and Motion Studies
  • United States