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Business group recommends cutting physician paperwork

Canadian doctors must spend millions of hours doing unnecessary paperwork, says report
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A Canadian Federation of Independent Business report suggests reducing red tape for physicians to allow more time for patients. (Photo by Black Press News Services)

Canadian doctors are spending the equivalent of more than 50 million patient visits worth of time wrestling with unnecessary red tape, says a new Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) report.

A pair of surveys showed the nation’s roughly 94,000 physicians were spending 18.5 million hours on unnecessary paperwork and administrative tasks yearly. In Alberta, doctors had to devote 2.1 million hours to paperwork, the equivalent of 6.5 million patient visits, according to the Patients Before Paperwork report released on Monday as part of CFIB’s annual Red Tape Awareness Week.

Patients before Paperwork builds on the findings of a 2020 study from Nova Scotia’s Office of Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness. Using Nova Scotia’s data as a benchmark, CFIB’s report estimates the total physician red tape burden in each province and territory as well as the number of patient visits that could be restored with the elimination of unnecessary paperwork and administrative tasks.

CFIB’s research shows that Canada’s doctors spent just under 50 million hours a year on administrative work. About 30 million hours was necessary, but nearly 12 million hours of work could be done by someone else and nearly seven million hours of paperwork could be eliminated entirely.

Unnecessary tasks include work that could be eliminated entirely as well as work that does not require a physician’s clinical expertise and could be done by someone else. Examples include lengthy and redundant forms and processes, and time-consuming tasks like filling out overly complicated paperwork for insurance companies.

If physicians were freed of the red tape burden, it would be the equivalent of adding another 7,000 doctors to the health system.

Friends of Medicare executive director Chris Gallaway is somewhat skeptical that Nova Scotia’s experiences can be so neatly transposed to create a national picture.

The financial and other benefits of reducing red tape are often touted by the business community and its representatives, but the savings often appear much less significant than advertised.

Gallaway said while reducing the administrative work physicians must do might provide some help, the CFIB report does not dig deeper into other healthcare improvements that could go further to addressing physician shortages and developing recruitment and retention strategies that work, including reducing barriers to foreign-trained physicians.

“(Paperwork) is a tiny piece of a bigger problem,” he said.

B.C. is looking at creating more salaried doctors as an alternative to doctors acting as small businesses dependent on fee for services.

Some doctors have embraced the idea. It allows them to spend more time as doctors and less time as a business owner sorting through human resources, administration and the billing issues that create much of the paperwork CFIB is talking about.

Nova Scotia set a target to reduce the physician administrative burden by 10 per cent by 2024, freeing up 50,000 hours of physician time a year, the equivalent of 150,000 patient visits.

CFIB is urging other provinces and territories to follow Nova Scotia’s lead, which could save the annual equivalent of 5.5 million visits nation-wide.

“Even a small reduction in the physician administrative burden can have a significant positive impact on the lives of Albertans, not to mention thousands of doctors,” said Andrew Sennyah, Alberta senior policy analyst. “Alberta’s health-care system is facing many complex challenges but reducing physician red tape is one concrete and measurable step governments can take to avoid physician burnout and improve patient care.”

CFIB is Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 97,000 members, including 9,300 in Alberta.

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