Systematic review of time studies evaluating physicians in the hospital setting

Matthew D. Tipping, Victoria E. Forth, David B. Magill, Kate Englert, Mark V. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Time studies, first developed in the late 19th century, are now being used to evaluate and improve worker efficiency in the hospital setting. This is the first review of hospital time study literature of which we are aware. PURPOSE: We performed a systematic review of the literature to better understand the available time study literature describing the activities of hospital physicians. DATA SOURCES: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, EMBASE Classic, PsycINFO, Cochrane Library, CINAHL, and Web of Science. We also manually reviewed the reference lists of retrieved articles and consulted experts in the field to identify additional articles for review. STUDY SELECTION: We selected studies that used time-motion or work-sampling performed via direct observation, included physicians, medical residents, or interns in their study population, and were performed on an inpatient hospital ward. DATA EXTRACTION: We abstracted data on subject population, study site, collection tools, and percentage of time spent on key categories of activity. DATA SYNTHESIS: Our search produced 11 time-motion and 2 work-sampling studies that met our criteria. These studies focused primarily on academic hospitals (92%) and the activities of physicians in training (69%). Other results varied widely. A lack of methodological standardization and dissimilar activity categorizations inhibited our efforts to summarize detailed findings across studies. However, we consistently found that activities indirectly related to a patient's care took more of hospital physicians' time than direct interaction with hospitalized patients. CONCLUSIONS: Time studies, when properly performed, have a great deal to offer in helping us understand and reengineer hospital care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-359
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of hospital medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 2010


  • Academic medical centers
  • Hospitalist
  • Hospitals
  • Medical staff
  • Physicians
  • Systematic review
  • Systems analysis
  • Task performance and analysis
  • Time and motion studies
  • Time management
  • Work sampling
  • Work simplification


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