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Study Reveals Interns Spend An Average of 12 Percent of Their Time with Patients

Update Date: Apr 24, 2013 03:26 PM EDT

When doctors-in-training are introduced into real life situations with actual patients and diseases, learning about patient interactions is key in becoming a better doctor. Listening to patients' symptoms and needs is important in properly diagnosing and treating different types of conditions. However, according to a new survey, medical interns who have survived the hard and intense courses in medical schools still do not get to see as many patients as one would think. The survey revealed that medical interns only spend an average of 12 percent of their time interacting with patients. The other 88 percent of the time, these new doctors are dealing with indirect patient care, such as research, educational activities like medical rounds, and even just roaming the halls of the hospital.

"One of the most important learning opportunities in residency is direct interaction with patients," the leader of the study, Lauren Block, M.D., M.P.H. stated. Block is a clinical fellow in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine. Block and colleagues followed the schedules of 29 internal medicine interns for three full weeks. These doctors were in their first years out of school.  

The researchers discovered that the breakdown of the interns' activities at the hospitals was alarming. According to the findings, 64 percent of the interns' time was devoted to indirect patient care, which includes placing orders, investigating patient history and completing electronic paper work. 15 percent of the time was spent participating in educational activities, such as medical rounds. 12 percent of the time was actually spent on patient interactions, which included talking and examining patients. The remaining nine percent fell into the miscellaneous activity category, with seven percent of the interns reported to roaming the hospital halls.

These findings suggest that new regulations in health care have limited doctor-patient interactions. The study's senior author, Leonard Feldman, M.D., stated that, "most of us went into medicine because we love spending time with the patients. Our systems have squeezed this out of medical training. [The percentage] seems shockingly low at face value. Interns spend almost four more times as long reviewing charts than directly engaging patients."

The study suggests that the system might need to change in order for doctors to be better trained at dealing directly with patients and not their paperwork. The study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine

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