A physician’s secret to restore joy in the exam room

As someone who has been in the medical field for nearly ten years, I have had the opportunity to follow many physicians. I started off shadowing physicians, standing behind them as they would speak to patients in their rooms.

Now, as a resident physician, I spend hours and hours each week in the clinic seeing my own patients. Every week, I read about burnout and how it affects fellow physicians deal with the work and stress of our lives. Every week, there are depressing posts about life and grumbles about physicians retiring due to EMR nonsense. Recent surveys suggest that a third to a half of each physician’s time is dedicated to bureaucratic tasks like EMR charting. As an optimistic academic physician, I decided to take my psyche into my own hands and do something slightly different. This action is something that few other physicians do from what I have seen, but it is something that has lessened my feelings of burnout, and something that has made clinic very tolerable and, dare I say it, happy for me.

The action is that I don’t bring my laptop in with me to the patient room. The difference is startling in how effective I am in dealing with the issues that my patients have. Suddenly, the emotion that patients are giving to me becomes real, I can’t ignore the faces of anguish on the depressed person’s face, or the happiness another face has after I have helped her lose 40 pounds. It helps me to connect with my patients, and more importantly, it helps me to remember who I am helping. Even though it adds time to my day to dictate into the EMR after each patient visit, I feel less burned out at the end of a clinic day as I have spent the whole day giving my full undivided attention to my patients.

They are grateful in return, listening to what I have to say, because they feel listened to. I remember shadowing a physician who was seeing an elderly woman in the clinic, the physician not looking up once from the computer, frantically going through the chart looking at medications, labs, health maintenance reminders, billing reminders, telephone encounters, scans, and putting in orders. The physician did not see her face once while she told him a long drawn out story about her past. Even though the story had nothing to do with her health, it was at that moment that I noticed how disconnected assembly line medical practices have become.

In the eyes of the EMR — the doctor was an effective biller and a great cog in the system — but in my eyes, he wasn’t the type of doctor that I would want for myself. The personal touch is what makes medicine great, and losing that to the computer is what burns physicians out. So I ask those out there reading this: Let us return to seeing our patients, not seeing the EMR.

Omar Bukhari is a family medicine resident.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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