Doctors Becoming Data-Entry Clerks


No one would go to school for 25 years to become a data-entry clerk.

The average doctor’s training requires 12 years of secondary schools, 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and 5 years of specialty training. Some do only three years after medical school, but others do an additional 7 years. That’s 25 years on average to practice medicine.

Given that extensive preparation and training to become a physician, it’s no surprise that these same professionals are leaving the profession that has forced them into data-entry clerks. That’s the conclusion of Charles Krauthammer, distinguished syndicated columnist for The Washington Post and a Harvard-trained psychiatrist in an earlier life.

The culprit in this caper is Electronic Health Records (EHRs). The Obama administration mandated in 2009 that by January 1, 2015, all Medicare providers must submit to EHRs or be punished with a reduction in their Medicare payments that begins at 1% and progresses to 3% or more in subsequent years.

Now it’s 2015 and what has been achieved? The government has spent $27 Billion and what have they accomplished? Health and Human Services inspector general said in 2014, “EHR technology can make it easier to commit fraud.” Medicare fraud is facilitated by the copy-and-paste function that allows the instant filling of vast data fields, facilitating billing inflation.

Numerous small medical practices, facing ruinous transition costs in equipment, software, training, personnel, and time, have gone out of business or been swallowed up by larger practices or hospitals. The era of solo practice is going the way of the dinosaurs.

Reallocation of Time

But most disruptive of all, doctors are spending their time doing other things than taking care of patients. A study reported in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that emergency-room doctors spend 43 percent of their time entering electronic records information, and just 28 percent with patients. Another study found that family practice physicians spend on average 48 minutes per day just entering clinical data.

Stop and think about what I just said. In an atmosphere where physicians are constantly seeing urgent and emergent medical conditions, only 28 percent of their time is treating patients! Is there any wonder that patients must wait hours and hours for treatment in the average hospital emergency room?

Even in the quiet of your doctor’s examination room, how much less listening is going on while your doctor tries to keep up with the data-entry demands of EHRs?

The government claims to be concerned about the rising cost of healthcare – but then adds millions to the cost by mandating doctors use EHRs – or else. The cost is tremendous and cannot be measured only in dollars. The cost is also the degradation of medicine and the demoralization of physicians. The cost is an ever-increasing doctor shortage, currently estimated at 60,000, that a new study by the American Association of Medical Colleges estimates will reach 90,000 by 2025.

Krauthammer summarizes: “EHR is healthcare’s Solyndra. Many, no doubt, feasted nicely on the $27 Billion, but the rest is waste; money squandered, patient care degraded, good physicians demoralized.”

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