Technology is a Double-Edged Sword for Physician-to-Physician Communication
When I first began practicing medicine over 20 years ago, physicians frequently talked to each other. Face-to-face conversations, scheduled or unscheduled (perhaps in a hallway or physician lounge), were immensely helpful: we shared our clinical perspectives and expertise in an environment marked by collegiality.
The introduction of EHRs into the hospital workplace has had many lasting effects, including on physician-to-physician communication. While workflow and administrative impacts have been widely reported, clinical communication has not been as thoroughly explored.
Based on a roundtable discussion I hosted recently with other physicians, technology is regarded as a double-edged sword when it comes to communication. While most physicians agree that technology has the potential to improve access to their peers, they also feel technology makes collaborating and connecting with one another less personal. It enables easier patient record sharing, yet it has isolated physicians by creating a siloed approach to patient care. With less time in the day for collaboration, and little face-to-face communication, physicians are losing valuable relationships with other physicians.
When it comes to patient care, my peers pointed out that face-to-face communication is the best practice – it can reduce the number of unnecessary tests performed on a patient and lower the potential for medical errors. By relaying information about a patient directly to another physician, the nuances of care can be explained and explored, reducing the likelihood of misunderstanding and mistakes.
The importance of communicating with other physicians to deliver optimal patient care cannot be overstated. Complex cases in particular require a collaborative effort from multiple practitioners applying their respective expertise. But the harsh reality is there are fewer opportunities for personal face-to-face interaction since it has become increasingly rare for physicians to be in the same hospital at the same time.
In other professions, technology has made day-to-day tasks easier to accomplish and cross-functional communication smoother. My physician colleagues and I, while concerned about the current state of play in healthcare, are optimistic that technology will help to improve patient care and foster more communication and collaboration for us, as well. I look forward to video messaging as a way to meld technology and face-to-face communication, representing the best of both worlds.
There are other hopeful signs. For example, PatientKeeper offers a Clinical Communications Suite that combines HIPAA-compliant messaging embedded within a provider’s workflow with access to the patient’s entire electronic medical record, plus sign-out and e-signature capabilities. This solution demonstrates that technology can contribute to both better communication through technology and more clinical collaboration – and that’s a win-win.