Measuring primary care exam length using electronic health record data

Hannah T. Neprash, Alexander Everhart, Donna McAlpine, Laura Barrie Smith, Bethany Sheridan, Dori A. Cross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background:Physicians' time with patients is a critical input to care, but is typically measured retrospectively through survey instruments. Data collected through the use of electronic health records (EHRs) offer an alternative way to measure visit length.Objective:To measure how much time primary care physicians spend with their patients, during each visit.Research Design:We used a national source of EHR data for primary care practices, from a large health information technology company. We calculated exam length and schedule deviations based on timestamps recorded by the EHR, after implementing sequential data refinements to account for non-real-time EHR use and clinical multitasking. Observational analyses calculated and plotted the mean, median, and interquartile range of exam length and exam length relative to scheduled visit length.Subjects:A total of 21,010,780 primary care visits in 2017.Measures:We identified primary care visits based on physician specialty. For these visits, we extracted timestamps for EHR activity during the exam. We also extracted scheduled visit length from the EHR's practice management functionality.Results:After data refinements, the average primary care exam was 18.0 minutes long (SD=13.5 min). On average, exams ran later than their scheduled duration by 1.2 minutes (SD=13.5 min). Visits scheduled for 10 or 15 minutes were more likely to exceed their allotted time than visits scheduled for 20 or 30 minutes.Conclusions:Time-stamped EHR data offer researchers and health systems an opportunity to measure exam length and other objects of interest related to time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-66
Number of pages5
JournalMedical care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 16 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
From the *Division of Health Policy & Management, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN; †Urban Institute, Washington, DC; and ‡athenahealth Inc., Watertown, MA. The authors declare no conflict of interest. This study was supported, in part, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Grant No. 41978). Correspondence to: Hannah T. Neprash, PhD, Division of Health Policy & Management, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, 420 Delaware Street SE, MMC 729, Minneapolis, MN 55455. E-mail: Supplemental Digital Content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s website, Copyright © 2020 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN: 0025-7079/21/5901-0062

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.


  • EHR data
  • Exam length
  • Primary care

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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