How Tech Is Hurting the Doctor-Patient Relationship
For all their contributions to health, some of the medical industry’s most advanced technology is still cutting into doctors’ precious time with patients.
Doctors don’t need to be reminded of the impact recent advancements in medical technology have had on their field. Pacemakers, advanced imaging devices, dialysis machines, and thousands of other medical miracles that are commonplace in the modern hospital make up a $400 billion industry for a reason: They greatly improve patient care and have saved countless lives.
But for all its advantages, there’s one advance in healthcare technology — the EMR — that has created an unexpected complication: the deterioration of the doctor-patient relationship.
A Wedge Between Doctor and Patient
Electronic health records (EHRs) are designed to improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of treatment while allowing physicians to improve care coordination and maintain the privacy of a patient’s health information. The aim is to empower patients by providing transparency into their own care, as well as improve medical outcomes through the analysis of robust data sets collected by medical systems.
Unfortunately, the technology has come at the cost of face-to-face interactions between doctors and their patients. One study shows clinicians spending only 12% of their time engaging in direct patient care, compared with 40% of their time spent recording and accessing information on computers. According to Suneel Dhand, internal medicine physician and founder of HealthITImprove, “Health care information technology in its current state has done more damage to the doctor-patient relationship than any other one thing over the last decade.”
There’s a commonly held belief that physicians are staunchly anti-technology. In fact, most physicians see the value in technology when it doesn’t impede their ability to provide the best care possible for their patients. For many, technology does not pass the eye test. Complex EHR systems force medical professionals to skip the bedside manner in favor of hours spent inputting data.
Debora Simmons, senior vice president of St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System in Houston, spoke about the complexity of EHR systems at a session during the 2014 Modern Healthcare Patient Safety & Quality virtual conference. She described user-unfriendly features like narrow drop-down menus restricting clinicians from seeing all of the information they need, as well as medication lists so lengthy that finding a specific drug is a major hassle.
While these details may seem minor, every extra minute a physician spends navigating a poorly designed program is a minute she is unable to spend with patients in her care. More importantly, these design flaws can lead to communication breakdowns and errors. “It’s incredibly important to make it very clear, so clinicians get the information without any ambiguous extras as they go through their work day,” Simmons said.
When it comes to healthcare technology like EHRs, it’s important to think about how it impacts not just the quality of care, but the quality of the doctor-patient relationship. By adopting clinical workflow technology and best practices, EHRs become more intuitive and easy to use, and clinicians can take back time from their computers and spend it where it’s most important: with their patient.
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