Electronic medical records worsen patient communication

Electronic medical records are becoming more prevalent in physician offices nationwide, but patient communication is being disrupted by the computer in the room.

An excellent piece by the New York Times’ Pauline Chen outlines the problem.

Calling it an “unforeseen consequence” — I quibble with whether this was truly unforeseen — Dr. Chen notes that, although electronic medical records promise efficiency, in reality, they hamper communication:

But that afternoon as I settled in to see my first clinic patient, I realized I had no idea where to sit. The new computer was perched atop a desk in one corner of the room; the patient sat on the exam table on the other side of the room. In order to use the computer, I had to turn my back to the patient as I spoke to him. I tried to compensate by sitting on a rolling stool but soon found myself spending more time spinning and wheeling back and forth between patient and computer than I did sitting still and listening. And when my patient did talk, his story came only in spurts because every time I turned my back to him to type, the room fell silent.

That’s a scenario replicated thousands of times across the country daily.

To solve the problem, I do what Dr. Chen does, which is to “memorize and jot down quick notes when necessary, then leave the room to type everything into the computer.” That way, I’m able to maintain eye contact with patients, instead of sharing it with the computer screen.

A poor user interface that plagues the majority of electronic medical record systems is to blame. Streamline the bells and whistles, de-emphasize the importance of capturing insurance billing information, and focus on easing the physician’s workflow. Only then will patients truly benefit from the digital record.