Processing Quality Measures Costs $40K Per Physician Per Year

John Commins, October 11, 2016

The results of a survey of physicians practices "can be seen as a referendum not just on the current state of quality measurements of physicians, but also of electronic medical records," says the lead study author.

This article was originally published on March 9, 2016.

Physician practices spend more than $15.4 billion each year reporting quality measures that nearly three out of four physicians believe do not reflect the best measures of quality, according to a study this week in Health Affairs.

Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College and the Medical Group Management Association surveyed 394 physician practices from across the nation found that physicians and their staff averaged 15.1 hours per physician per week processing quality metrics, which is the equivalent of 785.2 hours per physician per year, at an average cost of $40,069 per physician per year.

 Lawrence Casalino, MD
Lawrence Casalino, MD

The survey, funded in large part by The Physicians Foundation, found that physicians spent 2.6 hours per week dealing with quality measures, time that could have been used to provide care for an additional nine patients. The times spent processing data varied greatly depending upon the practice specialty.

Specialists spent considerably less time and money on reporting data when compared with primary care physicians. For example, primary care doctors averaged 3.9 hours per week dealing with quality measures, compared with 1.1 hours for orthopedists, with an average annual cost of $50,468 for PCPs, compared with $31,471 for orthopedists.

"To some extent our survey can be seen as a referendum not just on the current state of quality measurements of physicians, but also of electronic medical records," says study lead author Lawrence Casalino, MD, with the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research at Weill Cornell Medical College. "We are talking about substantial amounts of time—$40,000 per physician per year, almost three hours a week, and a lot more time from staff. That's not trivial."

Casalino spoke with HealthLeaders Media about the survey findings. The following is an edited transcript.

HLM: Why did you do this study?

Casalino: I do a lot of research involving physicians. Having to deal with [quality measures] is one of their chief complaints. There have been a lot of anecdotes, but not much evidence over the years about how much time this is really taking from them. We thought we would take a look at that.

HLM: What are physicians telling you?

Casalino: We had a free text area in the survey where anyone could write what they wanted. Here's one person: 'You get so focused on making sure that you are clicking the right fields in the (electronic medical record) that you lose touch and connection with the patients. It is very sad what medicine has come to.' That's a family practice physician. An orthopedic surgeon wrote: 'The current system for measuring 'quality' is simply a reporting mechanism for documenting check boxes, not really an indication of a person's health.'

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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