Interns spend little time with patients

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted May 6, 2013

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Medical interns spend most of their shifts occupied with indirect patient care activities such as placing orders and completing electronic documentation, while visits with patients take up 12% of their time. Those are the findings of a time-tracking study conducted among 29 interns for nearly 900 hours at two teaching hospitals in Baltimore, published online April 18 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (link).

Interns spent 40% of their time accomplishing computer-related tasks such as researching patient histories, while 15% of their time went toward educational activities. They spent 7% of their time walking.

The results show a slight drop in direct patient engagement from studies conducted before resident work hours were restricted to 80 hours a week by Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education rules in 2003, and further tightened to 16-hour shifts in 2011. For example, an August 1998 JGIM study among 60 residents and interns found that they spent 14% of their time with patients (link).

“One of the most important learning opportunities in residency is direct interaction with patients,” said Lauren Block, MD, MPH, lead author of the new study and a clinical fellow in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “Spending an average of eight minutes a day with each patient just doesn't seem like enough time to me.”

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