NY Times: Study finds many unpaid tasks in a primary-care doctor’s workday

According to an article in today’s New York Times, reporting on an article in the New England Journal of Medicine:

In addition to seeing patients, a primary-care physician each day must address more than three dozen urgent but uncompensated tasks, according to a study that provides a rare, quantitative look into the mechanics of office practice.

Answering telephone calls and e-mail messages, refilling prescriptions, reviewing lab test results and consulting with other doctors consume large amounts of time each day, even though none of it is paid for, according to the study.

Primary care is a centerpiece of the recently enacted health-care law, which provides incentives for doctors, nurses and physician assistants to enter the field. Many experts — and President Obama — have said that the 32 million additional people expected to get health insurance over the next decade will need primary-care providers if the law is going to both improve the quality of medical care and contain spending, its two goals beyond expanding coverage.

Primary care, however, is an increasingly unpopular field, and the new study sheds light on possible reasons.

The study by Richard J. Baron, MD, “What’s Keeping Us So Busy in Primary Care? A Snapshot from One Practice,” is available on the NEJM Web site. As the number of advanced practice nurses providing primary care increases, their fair remuneration takes on greater importance. Time for some case studies of those practices.

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