Doctors or Data Entry Clerks?

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Upon visiting this year’s American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) conference in Salt Lake City, Utah I am bewildered at the path our country is taking in the name of “improving” healthcare.

Do we really want/need our physicians entering data in a computer? Is this what we believe “quality” healthcare is?

If so, let me get this straight…what we are saying is after four years of undergraduate schooling and four years of medical school, with three to eight years of internships and residency (depending on the area of specialty); so in total, after spending between 11 and 16 years of training, what we want our highly trained (and highly compensated) physicians doing is spending 40 to 60% of their time entering data in a computer.

Are we nuts?

Where is the American Medical Association? Where are the physicians themselves? Where is the leadership of our healthcare system? Don’t they understand that paying physicians hundreds of thousands of dollars to be data entry clerks is not sustainable?

I am astonished, with the number of smart people we have in this country, that this has gotten this far.

What is even more astonishing is the business case some technology companies are using (and some healthcare leaders are buying) that says, “you can justify spending millions of dollars on their technology by transferring the data entry responsibility from today’s medical language specialists, medical billers, medical coders, medical scribes and other allied health professionals and place this responsibility on the shoulders of the physicians, nurses and other care providers.”

This makes all the sense in the world…let’s get a physician earning $150 per hour to do the job that one of these other allied health professionals can do for $20 – $40 per hour – all the while there is a well known shortage of doctors and nurses and our population is aging and requiring more and more services.

Someone please help me understand how this is improving the efficiency of our healthcare system?  Even at a 7.5:1 ratio ($150/$20) asking a physician to spend as little as 36 minutes per day entering data is a money losing and thereby inefficient proposition.

Like most other highly trained and highly compensated individuals, physicians should have access to quality data/information to assist them in delivering their services – we should not require them to be entering the data. In fact, we should be mandating that they don’t!

This would be the same as asking the CEO of Macy’s or Walmart to spend 40-60% of his or her time behind the cash register or asking the CEO of Exxon/Mobil to spend 40-60% of his or her time pumping gas or asking Tom Brady to work the concession stand at half-time of the New England Patriots game. Ridiculous!