Monday, August 12, 2013

Doctors now spend more time with computers than they do with patients

This bodes poorly for future physician quality:

The doctor won't see you now
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
August 11, 2013 12:03 am

Like the mail carrier or the milkman of yore, the doctor makes rounds every day in the hospital. If it's an academic institution, a bevy of medical students, interns and residents accompany an attending physician from room to room, checking up on the patient, doing a daily physical exam, reviewing the latest test results and highlighting the relevant teaching points. That's been the mainstay of medical education, and that's how my colleagues and I were taught to train the next generation of doctors.

Alas, this image would be true today only if a computer terminal were plunked in the bed instead of a patient. A new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine confirms what any physician or patient could tell you: Doctors spend more time with computers than they do with patients. In fact, computers handily beat out patients: Medical interns spent 40 percent of their day with a computer compared with 12 percent of their day with actual living, breathing patients. (Discussing cases with other health care professionals and educational activities were the other main activities of the day.)

... Nurses are practically chained to their computers these days. A typical outpatient office visit today consists of a doctor focused directly at a screen, and a patient waiting, ahem, patiently, while the doctor thrashes it out with the computer, furiously typing notes, orders and prescriptions, occasionally whacking the side of the computer in frustration.

I can assert this is not what the EMR pioneers intended.  They intended health IT to reduce workloads and inefficiencies so clinicians could spend more time performing care.  The tools they prototyped decades ago, unfortunately, are no longer in control of, or serving, the clinicians they intended the tools to serve.  Instead they are largely serving a permanent and growing bureaucracy. 

They are, in fact, mis-serving clinicians e.g., through production of reams of legible gibberish (, clinically mission-hostile designs (, outright defects ( and marauding hyperenthusiast-extremists pushing the technology on ill-informed management (

I think the illustration was appropriate; see article link for the artwork.

... For many doctors, nurses and patients, the experience of technology today--particularly the electronic medical record -- makes it feel as though technology is front and center while actual medical care is secondary. The expansion of the EMR has taken us to the point that caregivers hardly need to see a patient at all; the practice of medicine can be entirely virtual. 

It can be "virtual" if one wants low quality, that is.  Here's why:

... It was a brazen revolution in the 1890s when Sir William Osler pulled medical students out of the lecture hall and into the ward, with the startling idea that students needed to learn medicine with actual patients. But our technological march has steadily sapped this Oslerian ideal, and our trainees today are missing out on many of the finer points of medicine. Despite the impressive leaps forward in simulation technology, you simply cannot learn the subtleties of assessing a wound, palpating a spleen, asking the right questions, navigating a patient's fears, engendering trust, without actually being with patients.

Let me say this bluntly:  most people lacking full medical training cannot grasp this concept.  They do not know what they do not know.  Worse, many non-clinicians I've encountered, especially in the health IT domain, seem to be unable or unwilling will to accept that simple truth (perhaps in part due to the Dunning-Kruger effect).

... And for patients, medical care has become an increasingly isolating experience, as their caregivers seem more beholden to technologies than to their illnesses, which are most certainly not virtual.

 Perhaps decreasing patient satisfaction scores might change the current state of affairs?

... We need to rethink the role of technology in medicine, especially the electronic medical record. The new mantra of "patient-centered care" needs to apply equally to our computerized systems. With each new iteration of the EMR, we need to ask ourselves how patients are benefiting, as opposed to whether we are merely satisfying administrative documentation mandates. The EMR needs to exist in service to patient care, not simply as an end in itself.

Or, if unable to "exist in service to patient care" due to industry problems, it needs to cease to exist (i.e., be put on hold or put on ice) until it can perform to expectations.

-- SS

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Simply another reason why outcomes will not improve from the $ billions spent on HIT. There is more to the care of patients than ordering medications from a remote site. The HIT sham on America continues.