The Power of Show-and-Tell
There’s an assumption that EHR technology at the bedside detracts from the “humanness” of a physician-patient interaction, that the computer screen invariably functions as a barrier between the doctor and the patient. No doubt it can; if a physician were to stare at the screen instead of making eye contact with the patient, then that would indeed qualify as a “barrier”.
But what if the screen – whether it’s a laptop on a cart, or a tablet, or a smartphone – is used as a communication aide to help the physician engage with a patient, to enable show-and-tell? For example, the physician might display a lab or test result on the screen that she shows to the patient and interprets on the spot. Or the physician might show on screen how a clinical parameter such as blood pressure or blood sugar responds to weight loss, diet or a medication, effectively pairing a visual learning tool with verbal instruction. In these scenarios, the technology adds value that the patient can appreciate viscerally.
Physicians have many potential distractions as they interact with patients, most of which have nothing to do with technology. A recent “Doctor and Patient” post by Dr. Pauline Chen on the New York Times’ “Well” blog made this point quite powerfully, as she wrote about the importance of physicians staying focused, present, and “mindful”.
It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but I believe today’s information technology actually can help clinicians to accomplish that goal. After all, the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” may be old, but it’s still true. Let’s use the tools we have to put more pictures in front of patients where and when they can have the greatest impact and benefit. It will help keep both patients and physicians engaged.