A Technology-Free Doctor's Visit

A member of my family had a potentially serious health issue recently. I was asked to attend the necessary doctor’s appointment and was in the room to see the healthcare in action.

“The human spirit must prevail over technology.” —Albert Einstein

A member of my family had a potentially serious health issue recently. I was asked to attend the necessary doctor’s appointment and was in the room to see the healthcare in action.

I won’t go into any personal details other than to reflect on a related issue that is causing the medical profession some distress. It is electronic medical records (EMRs)—a touchy subject for today’s beleaguered physicians. And it just so happened that the day of our appointment, the doctor’s office was having problems with its EMRs system.

It was easy to tell that the nurse who prepped us and our doctor who came in later were very bothered that the “system was down today.” Throughout the appointment they talked about it with equal parts frustration and contrition. And even though the medical matter was very serious, the fact that we didn’t have to stare at a computer didn’t bother me at all.

Without the intrusions of technology, we got the full attention of all the healthcare professionals we saw that day—the doctor being the tops in his field. The physician was so engaged with us, so visual and thoughtful in his description of the illness, and so sure of his course of treatment, that I felt for the first in a long time, we as a family could be sure of things getting better.

Even so, the doctor seemed over-worried with the uncooperative EMRs system. According to a recent study by the Rand Corporation, doctors are unhappy with EMRs for the usual variety of reasons including: “time-consuming data entry, interfaces that don’t match clinical workflow, interference with face-to-face care, poor health information exchanges, data overload, high costs that can bring financial risk, and performing tasks that they believe are below their level of training, thus decreasing their efficiency.”

One new survey on doctors and EMRs found about half think their practice is seeing fewer patients per day because of EMR usage and three-quarters say they have not seen a return on their EMR investment. Thankfully, we and the doctor were able to get beyond those problems that day.

“It wasn't all that long ago that doctors' records consisted of scrawling handwritten notes in a binder,” according to a recent story in Fast Company, “How This Technology Is Making Doctors Hate Their Jobs.” “The transition from paper-based systems to digital ones kicked off in 2009, under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, which incentivized providers to adopt electronic medical records. That law took effect in January of 2011. This technology was supposed to reduce inefficiencies, make doctors' lives easier, and improve patient outcomes. The only problem? Many hospitals spent millions (and sometimes, billions) on systems that weren't designed to help their providers treat patients.”

Basically, many physicians believe that EMRs “are about a combination of meeting regulatory requirements, maximizing billing, and avoiding liability.”

EMRs are here to stay and doctors must learn to accept them and use the technology to the best of their ability. And yet, it was good to have a doctor’s appointment without the technology. Thankfully, a physician’s training, skill, and confidence can still win the day.