Countering the Distraction of EMR Software
As electronic medical records (EMR) software becomes ubiquitous in the medical field, there are increasing concerns about the effects of having a computer terminal in the exam room on interactions between health care providers and patients.
A recent study from Northwestern University published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics found that doctors who use electronic health records spend approximately a third of each appointment looking at the computer screen rather than at the patient. This raises concerns that doctors will miss vital nonverbal cues from their patients and fail to communicate with them effectively.
Building on baseline communications skills
An earlier study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine concluded that the exam room computer tended to amplify the communications skills of the practitioner – whether good or bad. Clinicians with good baseline verbal and nonverbal skills tended to augment those skills with information from the computer while still making a point of frequently reestablishing eye contact with the patient and verifying that they understood the discussion. Those clinicians with poor baseline verbal and nonverbal skills tended to spend most of each visit looking at the computer screen and interacting minimally with the patient.
Computer literacy is key
Another important observation from the same study was that computer mastery on the part of the clinician had an effect on the quality of communication with patients. The more comfortable the health care professional was with the computer and software, the more effectively he or she responded and communicated with patients. Used properly, EMR software can be a great time-saver and help clinicians spend each patient visit talking about current issues rather than having to rehash information that is now easily accessible online.
Room layout matters
Studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that the position of the computer setup in the room in relation to the patient makes a significant difference. Any setup where the health care professional is facing away from the patient or having to peer around a monitor to see them, serves as a barrier to a smooth flow of communication.
Focusing on the patient
As useful as it is to have patient information at your fingertips, as a health care professional you still need to make sure you’re putting your primary focus on the patient in front of you during each visit. Not only will that help ensure that you are correctly interpreting what the patient is expressing to you, but it will also help you avoid errors in care caused by distraction or inattention.