What should physicians do with more time?

July 11, 2023 / By Travis Bias, DO, MPH, FAAFP

Technology and the mounting artificial intelligence (AI) explosion are going to automate a long list of tasks, freeing up time for physicians. The big question then is what should physicians do with all this additional time?

For the financially-minded actor, the rational choice is to chase the carrots laid out for them. In a fee-for-service system, this means adding more patient visits to a physician’s daily schedule.

In today’s context, nothing would give a physician more anxiety. 

Adding more patient visits would negatively impact the quality of care and the patient experience, and it will definitely not help mitigate physician burnout. So, a quadruple loss in all directions of the quadruple aim.

In my first job after residency, seeing 20 patients per day, racing from the exam room to the electronic health record (EHR) inbox to the phone, I used to daydream about what I could do with more time:

  • Have coffee with my office staff.
  • Spend more time with complex patients, digging deeper into root causes of their conditions. (This would actually improve quality and reduce costs.)
  • Talk with a colleague about their weekend’s social events or a difficult patient case.
  • Read the latest Travel Medicine journal article.
  • Read one article about current events. 
  • Call patients who have difficult questions.
  • Call my parents.
  • Call a friend back.
  • Exercise longer.
  • Sit down and enjoy lunch.

The one thing I can guarantee was NOT on that list: Add more patients to my schedule. Adding visits may be a short-term path to revenue, but it also quickens the pace to burnout. 

Avoiding the urge to add more patient visits may actually ensure a longer, more sustainable career trajectory for clinicians, thus increasing the total care a clinician gives over the span of their career. Avoiding this urge to add volume while simultaneously enabling clinicians to have autonomy over how their free time is spent can improve retention, saving organizations money and improving their patients’ experience.

Technology vendors are creating all sorts of solutions to improve the clinician’s work day. If we build on the latest advances only to crank up the speed on the hamster wheel, we all will have missed the point.

Dr. Travis Bias is a family medicine physician and chief medical officer of clinician solutions at 3M Health Information Systems.