A few weeks ago, I was in the hospital for an outpatient medical procedure. After I had my blood drawn, went through registration, and succeeded in securing countless buttons and strings on my hospital gown, I was placed on a wheeled stretcher. And I lay there waiting only for a few seconds before they all arrive, making their rounds.
In this small holding area packed with beeping machines and blinking monitors, I received an IV from one nurse, my vitals were taken and recorded by another, my complete medical history and personal information was logged into the computer by a third, my digital medical file was viewed by two others, and one RN from anesthesia and post-op care went over my procedure with her laptop in hand.
It was all protocol and routine. Yet I still wanted my mobile bed to magically transport me to the recovery room so that I could rest.
When the seventh nurse came over to see whether I had seen or spoken to my doctor yet, I replied in the negative, but that I had seen plenty of medical personnel and that the computer workstation had gotten quite a workout.
Her next question caught me completely off-guard. She spoke softly and cautiously, peering out from behind her glasses and my leafy-paper medical file. "Sorry. I umm, can't read what's on your chart. What are you here for today?" And with that, she sat down in a chair, eye level with me, listening to my every word.
Out of the seven nurses, she was the only one who had bothered to read or even glance at my paper file. She never once turned to the computer. Instead, the young nurse turned to me, the patient, for answers.
Given her age, I would think she was well aware of electronic health records and given her experience, I'm sure she could read through my file if she tried. It seemed as if she was just using the paper file as an excuse for us to engage in conversation and form a connection, right before I was beginning to think I was the third party in the room.
Computerized medical files definitely close the gap in information gathering and data collection, but how is it actually affecting the patient/practitioner relationship? A much discussed study in the International Journal of Medical Informatics found that doctors who use electronic health records spent about a third of the patient visit staring at a computer screen. If a medical professional is standing up with their back toward you while facing their monitor, there is literally no room for nonverbal communication. The interaction becomes an information exchange and nothing more.
I thanked the nurse for taking the time to speak with me. We joked about the chicken-scratch notes in my paper medical record before she went on her way. Sure it had errors. It was far from perfect. But somehow that had made it a little easier for us to connect.
Has your relationship changed with your doctor or practitioner now that they have gone paperless? Share your thoughts with us in comments.