Fredericton family doctor calls on province to help cut paperwork, free up time for patients
If the New Brunswick government helped reduce paperwork for family doctors, they could see their patients sooner and potentially take in more patients, a Fredericton doctor says.
It could also reduce physician burnout and help encourage new physicians to enter general practice, said Dr. Will Stymiest.
Approximately 59,000 New Brunswickers are registered as individuals without a primary care physician.
Stymie estimates that he spends four to eight hours a week on paperwork.
That includes “essential” things that won’t change, like documenting patient visits, billing with Medicare and making sure office staff get paid, he said.
But there are also numerous forms, such as the additional paperwork required for provincial coverage of certain medications and sick leave required for government employees.
“If the government were able to eliminate or consolidate or even simplify some forms, it would go a long way toward reducing the paperwork that we have,” Stymiest said.
10% less, equivalent to 119,726 patient visits
According to a new study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, eliminating “unnecessary paperwork” for New Brunswick physicians would equate to adding 152 physicians.
Even a 10 percent cut in their paperwork would free up enough time for 119,726 additional patient visits, according to the Patients Before Paperwork study released earlier this week.
According to the study, around 55.6 million patient visits are lost each year across Canada because physicians spend a total of 18.5 million hours on unnecessary administrative tasks — time that could be better spent with patients.
The organization wants provincial governments to follow Nova Scotia’s example, which last year set a goal to reduce the administrative burden on doctors by 10 percent by 2024, with a goal of freeing up 50,000 hours of doctor time per year — the equivalent of 150,000 patient visits .
Information Morning – Fredericton12:54Physician bureaucracy
A review by the New Brunswick Medical Society found that there are as many as 40 forms that the Department of Social Development is required to fill out by physicians, according to Stymiest.
He claims that only about three of these actually require a Doctor to complete, while the rest could be completed by someone else, such as a Pharmacist. Some, he said, are “unnecessary”.
He cites as an example a diabetic with a social development health card who needs a form every year to say that she needs insulin and checking her blood sugar levels and that these are medically necessary expenses that must be covered by the department.
“I think for a lot of us, if we magically had 10 to 15 percent less paperwork tomorrow, and with that hopefully more patient time, we could actually try to bring new patients into our practices,” he told Most Stylish.
“And I think this is a source of burnout and frustration for GPs and it’s probably leading to people not having group practice or never getting into GP medicine at all.”
The medical community strongly supports reducing paperwork
The New Brunswick Medical Society strongly supports actions aimed at reducing the burden of excessive paperwork and other administrative tasks on physicians, said President Dr. Michèle Michaud, General Practitioner, Palliative Care Physician, Pain Clinician and Hospital Physician in Edmundston.
“Paperwork is a big problem in terms of both workload and physician burnout,” she said in an emailed statement.
“Doctors report spending more time on administrative tasks than on patient care, with the imbalance increasing thanks to the increasing need to document everything thoroughly and often in duplicate for insurance, legal and billing purposes.
“Streamlining these processes would help relieve physicians and give them more time to focus on treating patients.”
The Department of Health and the Department of Social Development did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Calls for help in hiring office nurses
Another way the government could reduce paperwork, Stymiest says, is by helping doctors hire more licensed practical nurses or registered nurses.
They are well-trained providers and can help with portions of patient visits, he said. They can also assist in documenting patient visits.
Stymiest, who shares an office with three other doctors, including his wife, has a nurse who helps gather some of the background information for forms, giving him time to see more patients before he has to rush at the end of the day pick up his two small children from kindergarten.
He believes he is “in the minority”. But if more doctors could hire nurses into their offices, “we would see better health outcomes because nurses certainly contribute, but also better access into offices, and maybe doctors can take more patients,” he said.