Paul Ravetz: Can the art of medicine exist in the computer age?

The following is a reader take by Paul Ravetz.

Does the “Art of Medicine” really exist, or perhaps more importantly, can it do so in the computer age?

Computers are both the boon and the bane of medicine. Electronic medical records (EMRs) are excellent for retrieval of information about labs, medications, and past medical history of our patients. These records are much easier to access than our old paper charts. However, I feel that the Achilles Heel of these advances lies in the fact that physicians are so busy inputting information into their computers that they do not spend enough time communicating with the patient.

Communication with your patient is the epitome of the Art of Medicine. It is vital that physician and patient understand each other. This includes not only what the patient says but what they mean. This takes time, a commodity which is in short supply in the age of EMR. One should always remember a basic caveat about computers, which is, “garbage in, garbage out.” If wrong information is fed into the computer, it doesn’t matter what algorithm that you use because you will be following a false trail.

Computerization of medicine will lead to great advances if it is implemented properly. However, the way things are presently being done cheats the patient out of the most important part of the doctor patient relationship – time to communicate. I always remember the precept advanced by Sir William Osler, the father of modern medicine, “Listen carefully doctor, the patient is giving you the diagnosis.”

The combination of the computer age along with the time to listen to the patient and to accurately define their problem will indeed lead to a new age in medical care, but to ignore one or the other is not to fulfill our obligation to our patients.

Paul Ravetz is a family physician.