American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Personal tech

My 87-year-old father broke his hip this past weekend. He was in Michigan for a party for his 101-year-old sister, and fell as he tried to put away her wheelchair. The good news is that he’s otherwise pretty healthy, so he should do fine. Still, getting old sucks.

During the whole situation around his injury, surgery, and upcoming recovery, one thing became very clear: technology can really make things much easier:
• I communicated with all of my siblings about what was going on and gave my “doctor’s perspective” to them via e-mail.
• I updated friends and other family members via Facebook.
• I have used social media to communicate cousins about what is going to happen after he’s discharged from the hospital and coordinate our plans.

All in all, tech has really made things much easier.

This reality is in stark contrast to the recent headline I read on Medscape: “Doctors are Talking: EHRs Destroy the Patient Encounter.” The article talks about the use of scribes (a clerical person in the exam room, not a pal of the Pharisee) to compensate for the inefficiencies of the computer in the exam room. Physician reaction is predictable: most see electronic records as an intrusion of “big brother” into the exam room. To me, the suggestion to use a scribe (increasing overhead by one full-time equivalent employee) to make the system profitable is ample evidence of EMR being anti-efficient.

Despite this, I continue to beat the drum for the use of technology as a positive force for health care improvement. In fact, I think that an increased use of tech is needed to truly make care better. Why do I do so, in face of the mounting frustrations of physicians with computerized records? Am I wrong, or are they?

Neither. The problem with electronic records is not with the tech itself, it is with the purpose of the medical record. Records are not for patient care or communication, they are the goods doctors give to the payors in exchange for money. They are the end-product of patient care, the product we sell. Doctors aren’t paid to give care, they are paid to document it. Electronic records simply make it so doctors can produce more documents in less time, complying with ever-increasingly complex rules for documentation.

When I say we need more tech, I am not saying we need more computerization so we can produce a higher volume of medically irrelevant word garbage. I am not saying we need to gather more points of data that can measure physicians and “reward” them if they input data well enough. The tech I am referring to is like that I used regarding my father. I want technology that does two things: connects and organizes. I want to be able to coordinate care with specialists and to reach out to my patients. I want my patients to be able to reach me when they need my help. Technology can do this; it sure did for my dad.

Yet people are incredibly reluctant to adopt this. They fear that using technology will inevitably make things less personal. I have patients who are still reluctant to use computers for this reason, and I definitely see this in my colleagues, who reject my pleas to communicate with me electronically.

My main communication tool, Twistle, allows me to communicate quickly and securely with my patients. Using it has greatly improved the efficiency of care and makes my patients feel more connected with me. Here are some examples:
• Patients routinely send me pictures of rashes/lesions. Sometimes I end up bringing them in to the office to get a personal view of them, but often I can give care based on the computer. One mother was out of state with her child and I could successfully diagnose and treat a yeast diaper rash. She was thrilled.
• I send actual copies of lab, X-ray, and procedure reports to the patients along with my explanation of their significance. Now the patient has a copy with them at all times (as long as they have a smartphone) and so can share the reports with any specialists they visit.
• One patient was having bad problems with an intestinal infection and was in the ER for the third time in a week. The ER doc was not taking her seriously and so she sent me a Twistle message asking for help. I replied with a run-down of what had been done and the reasons I felt she needed to be admitted for a work-up. She showed it to the doctor in the ER who grinned, nodded, and admitted her without any more questions.
• I often have a back-and-forth conversation using Twistle regarding symptoms and/or concerns a patient is having. This sometimes resolves the problem, but sometimes it results in an office visit. These visits, however, usually take less than 10 minutes of the patient’s time (from when they come in to when they leave) because I’ve already gotten the history on Twistle. This is normal in my practice, but is almost unheard of in the “real world.”

There are other examples, but clearly my patients who use this tool think it makes their care better. But what about those who are still reluctant? What about those who worry that this will push their care toward impersonal electronic communication? I finally figured out an answer to this: my daughter.

My daughter is in college in upstate New York (where I grew up, and where my parents live). She loves it up there (although has realized why few people retire and move up north), but the distance has been hard on us. We don’t get to see her nearly enough. The one thing that has helped us deal with this long distance has been technology. We use text messages, e-mail, FaceTime, and other technology to stay close to her. Does the technology replace seeing her in person? Absolutely not. But it does enhance our communication and connects us when we couldn’t otherwise do it.

This is what technology should do: it should enhance connection and improve relationship. Technology doesn’t have to add a layer of complexity or push people apart, in can simplify and connect. Technology doesn’t bring my dad or my daughter down to Georgia, but it can make the distance feel much shorter.

So I roll my eyes when people suggest paper medical records. Really?? I wouldn’t give up the ways in which tech has improved my communication and has brought me closer to the people who really matter. I think most of my patients would agree.

After taking a year-long hiatus from blogging, Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, returned with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind), where this post originally appeared.

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Blog log

Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:

Albert Fuchs, MD
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.

And Thus, It Begins
Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.

Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Zackary Berger
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.

Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Iowa City, IA, with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).

db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.

Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.

Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.

Everything Health
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.

Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.

Glass Hospital
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.

Gut Check
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.

I'm dok
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.

Informatics Professor
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.

David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.

Just Oncology
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.

Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.

MD Whistleblower
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.

Medical Lessons
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.

Mired in MedEd
Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.

More Musings
Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, a med-peds and general practice internist, returns with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind).

David M. Sack, MD, FACP, practices general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. His blog is a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.

Reflections of a Grady Doctor
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, reflects on the personal side of being a doctor in a community hospital in Atlanta.

The Blog of Paul Sufka
Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.

Technology in (Medical) Education
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.

Peter A. Lipson, MD
Peter A. Lipson, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture.

Why is American Health Care So Expensive?
Janice Boughton, MD, FACP, practiced internal medicine for 20 years before adopting a career in hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling.

World's Best Site
Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington.

Other blogs of note:

American Journal of Medicine
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.

Clinical Correlations
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.

Interact MD
Michael Benjamin, MD, ACP member, doesn't accept industry money so he can create an independent, clinician-reviewed space on the Internet for physicians to report and comment on the medical news of the day.

PLoS Blog
The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.

White Coat Rants
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.

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