Show us a healthcare provider who enjoys charting, and we’ll show you a unicorn.
If you want to start a conversation that will never end, then gather a few of your favorite therapists, pass around some adult beverages and ask them how much they hate documentation.
Despite universal hatred of endless files, checklists, and patient records — documentation and other administrative tasks are necessary evils that keep practices functioning and patients progressing on their health plans.
Still, do you know how much time you’re really spending on admin work? And – when it’s inevitably too much time – do you know how to accomplish the same tasks in less time to keep work-life balance and avoid burnout? (1)
How Much Time Is Spent – A Bird’s Eye View
In 2019, the American Physical Therapy Association surveyed nearly 1,600 physical therapy providers about their administrative work.
To no one’s surprise, the results offered confirmation of one of the biggest pains in modern medicine: Administrative work burdens providers and their staff. (2)
However, the survey also found that higher admin task loads made patient care suffer, too. (For us, that’s where the time problem evolves from “just annoying” to “unacceptable.”)
- 64-68% of clinicians spent more than 10 minutes per patient completing paperwork to request subsequent visits.
- The vast majority of providers saw their administrative burden increase more than 25% when they sought out third-party help for insurance authorizations.
- Nearly 73% of patients waited at least 3 days to receive authorization from their insurance company. (26% wait more than a week!)
- More than 85% of providers felt that administrative burden contributes to provider burnout.
The time sink of administrative tasks goes beyond just physical therapy practices, though.
One national study found that United States physicians spend an average 8.7 hours a week – over a full traditional work day! – on administrative tasks. (3)
Of all the healthcare professions studied, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals had it the worst. Mental health professionals spent an average 20.3% of their total working hours on admin.
Finally, the study also found that the more electronic health record programs in use, the greater the administrative burden on healthcare providers.
(Ironic – weren’t EHRs supposed to help with the time suck of files?)
Again, these and other studies don’t really tell us anything new. After all, providers live these statistics every day!
Still, just because admin is awful doesn’t mean we resign ourselves to burning the midnight oil all the time.
Quick Fixes for Email and Multi-Tasking
The Case of the Disappearing Half Hour
Imagine: A patient messages you that they’re running late, and can you please push their appointment back by 20 minutes?
Suddenly, you have a schedule gap you weren’t expecting – A perfect time to catch up on all those overdue treatment notes!
Before you dive into their documentation, though, you’re just gonna open up that email notification that popped up …
Type up a quick response to your coworker’s email about that new post-op protocol, send two replies to patients who sent you questions about their HEPs, switch over to the puppy cam at home…
Suddenly, your previously late patient is walking through the door. Where did the time go?!
We’ve all been there before – patients and providers alike. Still, there are research-backed, tried-and-true ways to claw back some of that time while maintaining our patient records and files.
- Cut Your Emails: Set aside one or two regular time slots everyday in which to clear your inbox. If you check your email in the middle of the work day, limit yourself to a very discrete window — 10 minutes max! — before moving on. Quickly scan the list of messages and prioritize only those that are truly both important and urgent, and leave the rest for later. (4, 5)
- Never Multi-Task: While many clinic cultures require that therapists bounce between two or three patients at a time, applying this approach to administrative work is a recipe for disaster. Multi-tasking duties that require significant focus — think complicated eval write-ups! — makes providers more likely to make mistakes they wouldn’t otherwise. Instead, pick one task at a time. Complete that task fully before moving on to the next. You’ll save precious seconds by not constantly switching focus, and your brain will thank you! (6)
Spend Time in Tech Training
The Time Suck Silver Bullet
For most healthcare providers, documentation is one of their most time-consuming daily duties.1 If providers can improve in documentation, then they can significantly reduce overall time spent on administrative tasks.
For example, several studies in recent years examined the impact of formally educating providers on how to use their electronic health record (EHR), rather than letting them “figure it out” on their own. (7)
These studies found that official software training significantly improves workflow efficiency, the quality of documentation, and the providers’ job satisfaction.
While “training helps you use the program better!” seems obvious, few people – including providers – invest the small amount of time it takes on the front end to learn EHRs and other programs.
In the same way that providers set aside time for continuing education courses to develop clinical skills, providers must dedicate time to learning their own tech stack.
After all, what’s an hour or thirty minutes over lunch, if it means you’ll learn shortcuts that shave literal days of work off your admin time later?
If you’re a practice owner, then block off time for your clinicians to take these trainings – and make them mandatory! Your employees will be happier and more efficient, reflecting back on the care they are able to provide to patients.
Remember that it’s not just your EHRs that can help you cut down your administrative time. For example, AC Health providers tell us that the app saves them 20 hours or more every week.
By allowing providers to video themselves or their patients doing an exercise while teaching it in-session, you can save precious minutes (hours) that would normally be lost searching for and modifying pre-set exercises in other HEP programs.
Whatever you can do to cut down on that 16% admin time means that you’ll be staring at your computer less and engaging with your patients more. That’s a win for everyone!