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Insufficient Time for Patients May Add to Healthcare Waste


Reform advocates agree that a doctor’s time is a scarce resource that can contribute to waste when it is stretched too thin.

“It’s not just about overtreatment; it’s about getting the right treatment, and the right treatment depends on the right diagnosis, and the right diagnosis depends on really taking the time to think carefully with the patient about what’s going on,” says Vineet Arora, MD, MAPP, FHM, a hospitalist and researcher at the University of Chicago. A doctor “pulled in 10 different ways in the hospital” simply may not have the bandwidth to devote sufficient time to a complex patient; ordering a test can then seem like an enticing way to save some time.

Although electronic health records may have simplified the process for ordering CT scans and other tests, Dr. Arora says, they sometimes supersede important conversations that should take place with radiologists or other specialists about whether those tests are truly necessary. Meanwhile, providers face a proliferation of reporting duties. Recent surveys, in fact, suggest that doctors are “drowning” in paperwork and computer-based reporting requirements. Placing additional demands on a doctor’s time, Dr. Arora says, can limit his or her availability for other duties.

With hospitalists caring for increasingly complex patients with more complicated therapeutics, UCSF’s Christopher Moriates, MD, agrees that insufficient time can be an important barrier to change. It is not, however, insurmountable. If the ethos of medicine is “First, do no harm,” he says, it’s critical for doctors to remember that waste is harm.

“If we’re really going to stand by that,” he says, “then it rises to be something that we really need to take on.”

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