Do computers interfere with the doctor-patient relationship?

Lost in the zeal of those supporting electronic medical records is how computers can depersonalize the patient encounter.

In a nice op-ed in The New York Times, pediatrician Anne Armstrong-Coben talks about how doctors now have to make a concerted effort to look up from a computer screen simply to maintain eye contact with a patient. “I advise teenagers to limit computer time,” she writes, “as I sit before one myself for hours each day until my own eyes twitch and my neck starts to spasm.”

More worrisome, and this has been mentioned here before, is how template-based notes are voluminous, but often say little. A singly keystroke, or click on a box, can fill up the page with paragraphs of narrative, but what’s important is often missed.

There is no question that doctors should adopt digital records, but as Dr. Armstrong-Coben says, “there should be more discussion and study of electronic records, or at a minimum acknowledgment of the downside.”

Because those drawbacks are not insignificant.