There are many reasons why information technology (IT) and the new age of computers holds great promise for the future of health care. We are still at a relatively embryonic time, when the use of IT by doctors and nurses is still evolving. The rush to fulfill Meaningful Use requirements has resulted in a sea change at the frontlines of medicine. The reality however for the majority of doctors and nurses has been far from rosy, as they are having to spend more and more of their days staring at screens instead of with their patients.
I personally have yet to meet a doctor anywhere (and I've worked up and down the east coast in lots of different hospitals) who is happy with their electronic medical record (EMR). The problem is not the information technology itself, which is very much the future, but the solutions that currently exist and how they operate in the overall real world of clinical workflow. But let's forget about the health care professionals for a moment, and also think about the real people that matter: our patients. Because not only does IT cause headaches for doctors and nurses, but also for them. Over the years I've heard numerous (in fact too numerous to count) complaints from patients regarding this issue. Here are examples of them:
“My doctor barely looks at me anymore. I sit in front of him and he keeps turning away every few seconds and staring at his screen, clicking his mouse and typing away”
“My doctor didn't even make eye contact with me, he just seemed to be searching for the diagnosis on his computer”
“The nurses were just running around with their computer carts and hardly looked up”
“I don't want the home nurse coming to visit me. They just walk in with their computers and don't really do anything to help me”
“The doctors and nurses in the ER just kept running back to their computers and didn't spend enough time talking with me”
“If my doctor is going to spend her whole time on the computer, I may as well just do it myself!”
“All I wanted was my doctor and nurse to sit down and talk with me, not be looking at their computer the whole time”
The above statements could come from any hospital across the nation. And until those “dream” IT solutions of the future are developed, and until doctors and nurses learn how to properly interact with computers in their patient interaction (preferably minimal or not at all), these complaints will continue. The practice of medicine always has been and always will be a uniquely personal and emotional arena. When the humanity is lost, health care is doomed. We can't let that happen. If we are really serious about addressing patient satisfaction and the health care experience, improving our relationship with health care IT would be a good place to start.
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. This post originally appeared at his blog.