technology, access, telemedicine

The doctor (and his laptop) will see you now

Jun 12 2015

For most of us, the doctor-patient relationship is a unique human connection built on candor and listening. So what happens when your doctor is tap-tap-tapping on a computer, not making eye contact, while you stare at his shoulder and share your most personal health issues? The loss of face-to-face communication is one risk to the otherwise timely practice of going digital in the doctor’s office.

Stocksy_txpa3c2b952QON000_Small_371884The use of electronic health records is growing, a trend driven by health care reform regulations and the advantages of more integrated tracking of patient health information. In the past, a doctor may have spent office time recording notes about patient visits. Now, clinicians often will input data directly into their record system during the course of an exam or consultation. Though it may be efficient, the behavior fundamentally alters the way that doctors and patients interact in the exam room.  As yet, the rules of etiquette for computerized medicine are still forming.

“The technology gets in the way of the conversation in the exam room, and it shouldn’t,” said Aaron Sklar, managing director of experience strategy and design at Healthagen, part of Aetna. Designs that improve that user experience – and consequently, the way doctors and patient interact – represent a next great evolution in digital technology, Sklar said.

It’s a welcome thought to many in the medical profession. This shift in how doctors, patients and devices interact – a shift brought on by electronic health records – vexes many in the clinical field, and is a topic that many docs are speaking out about.

One of the more vocal is Robert Wachter, a renowned expert on patient safety, who recently wrote a new book on the subject of computerized medicine. One of the key challenges, as he recently told a group of health care journalists, is that “people don’t look at each other anymore.” The office visit, Wachter said, has become too focused on box-clicking and screen-filling, rather than personal, face-to-face-time.

As yet, the rules of etiquette for computerized medicine are still forming.

When entering data takes over the exam room experience, patients may be less likely to open up or take time to ask questions  — exactly the opposite of what patients are looking for. “Patients are no longer passive bystanders,” Sklar writes in a recent blog post on the topic.

“The future of health care depends on consumers taking control and proactively managing their health – and the key to help them get there is an experience that is convenient, engaging and enjoyable,” Sklar said.

Make the most of your experience

For now, health care consultant and lawyer Craig Boyd Garner offers some good advice to patients for how to approach the doctor’s visit: Be thorough and honest in explaining your symptoms, and ask questions about anything that’s unclear. “Opening up a dialogue in which information and concerns can be shared, the doctor is better able to assess the situation, while the patient is made to take a more active role in the course of treatment, leading to a more relaxed, balanced and satisfying experience for all involved,” he wrote.

If it helps, bring a list of your concerns or questions to your next visit and don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to give you their full attention. Just be sure to save your own calls, texting and tweeting for after your appointment.