Female physicians have traditionally spent more time interacting with the EHR compared with their male colleagues. But a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine shows that gender gap continues to grow even wider.
Between 2019 and 2022 there was an 8.3 minute increase each year in the already existing gap between the time men and women physicians spend on the EHR for every eight hours of scheduled clinic time, according to the open access study “Gender Differences in Primary Care Physicians’ Electronic Health Record Use over Time.”
When the report’s authors looked at the average number of hours that physicians spent interacting with the EHR, women physicians spent seven hours on the EHR for every eight hours of scheduled time with patients during the last year of the study. Meanwhile, their male counterparts spent 5.3 hours interacting with the EHR. When the study started, women physicians spent an average of 6.4 hours in the EHR compared with the five hours men spent for every eight hours of patient scheduled time.
The research shows that the gender gap grew when it came to note writing, inbox management and time outside scheduled clinical hours—aka “work outside of work,” the research showed. In each of the three years of the study, the gap between male and female time on the EHR grew by an average of:
- 6.1 minutes for note writing.
- 3.3 minutes for inbox tasks.
- 6.2 minutes for work outside of work.
This disparity on work outside of work “is particularly concerning given the association between outside-hours EHR use and physician burnout. It is critical that health systems explore root causes behind these differences and develop solutions to address them considering the higher burnout among female physicians,” wrote the study’s authors, who include Christine Sinsky, MD, the AMA’s vice president of professional satisfaction.
Reducing physician burnout is a critical component of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians.
Far too many American physicians experience burnout. That's why the AMA develops resources that prioritize well-being and highlight workflow changes so physicians can focus on what matters—patient care.
Steps to help reduce the gap
The observational study from the University of Wisconsin (UW) included 160 UW Health primary care physicians—family physicians, internists and pediatricians. The large academic medical center serves more than 290,000 medically homed patients.
Some possible solutions, according to the study’s authors, to reduce the widening EHR gender gap include:
- Additional documentation support.
- Extra help with the inbox.
- Decreased panel size.
- Reduced patient contact time.
AMA STEPS Forward® offers several tools to help practices make changes that could reduce the amount of time physicians spend interacting with the EHR. For example, the “Taming the EHR Playbook” playbook and “Getting Rid of Stupid Stuff” toolkit offer tips on how to reduce the unnecessary daily burdens that fall on physicians’ shoulders.
The study’s authors noted they could not determine the cause of their observed differences, whether they might be attributed to asynchronous work patterns, patient population or other systemic factors. But future work might examine the gender gap in EHR use in other domains and the impact of targeted interventions to reduce the burden for women physicians.
This study was supported by the AMA Practice Transformation EHR Use Research Grant program, which has provided more than $1.5 million in grant funding for 15 studies to researchers nationwide since 2020.