Tips and Tools for Maintaining Patient Interaction While Using EHRs

A recent study by Northwestern University aimed to answer an important question in today’s world of electronic health records (EHR): Do physicians spend too much time looking at the computer screen?

The results? Doctors who use an EHR in the exam room spend about one-third of their patient visits with their eyes on the computer.

In a previous post, we covered some strategies for minimizing distractions and keeping your primary focus on your patients. But if you need additional help maintaining patient interaction while you review and update the EHR, here are four additional tools and resources to consider:

1. Training

If you’re confident in using your EHR, you won’t need as much time to complete forms, check boxes, and navigate the system. Initial training is often not comprehensive, so many physicians and staff members can benefit from further education. Familiarize yourself with system short cuts and brush up on note-taking techniques, while avoiding any workarounds that could put you at risk for inaccurate documentation.

And if you’re still having trouble balancing the amount of attention you’re focusing on your computer versus your patient, tap into some communication skills training. Despite its obvious importance, many doctors have received limited training in this area. Even a short session can help sharpen your skills and renew your toll free number commitment to patient-centered communication.

2. Voice Recognition Software

While early voice recognition technology was often imprecise and cumbersome, today’s versions are much more accurate. Physicians who use it may have to adapt their dictation style a bit, but they can usually get up to speed pretty quickly. Doctors will still need to review their notes, but they can do so in real time — and the final documentation will capture even the smallest detail of the patient-doctor discussion.

Of course, on the downside, this additional software will require a slight learning curve and — if it’s not already built into your EHR — an extra cost.

3. Medical Scribes

Employing a medical scribe is helpful for doctors who’d prefer not to use the computer during a patient visit. A scribe accompanies the physician into the exam room and completes documentation of the visit in real time.

Just keep in mind that some patients may feel less comfortable discussing their personal medical information with another person in the exam room. Other possible drawbacks include the costs associated with hiring an additional staff member and the extra time physicians must spend reviewing and verifying the scribe’s notes. (Want more information on the pros and cons of using a scribe? Check out our recent blog post on the topic.)

4. The Patient

To further engage your patients and free up more time for face-to-face conversation, have them interact with the EHR. Prior to their appointment, patients can fill out or review key information online, such as their medical history and medication list. (And those patients who need help doing this can receive assistance from an appointed staff member, if needed.) During the visit, show the computer screen to your patients, walk through your notes together, and engage them in joint decision making and goal setting.

You don’t have to think of it as the patient versus the computer. In fact, despite the common belief that patients feel like their doctors aren’t fully engaged with them while using EHRs in the exam room, a recent study by The Profitable Practice refutes that point. The survey found that the majority of patients — more than 80 percent of respondents — are not bothered when a doctor uses a desktop, laptop, or tablet to document an office visit. In fact, most respondents (47 percent) have no preference when asked to choose between doctors using paper charts or using an EHR system. And of those respondents who do have a preference, more prefer the use of electronic records.

So if you’re using an EHR, take the necessary steps to engage in personal interaction with your patients. And through it all, use good eye contact, listen carefully, and pay attention to any nonverbal communication cues. Those actions will reveal much more about the patient than a computer screen ever will.

 

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