February 13, 2012
By now, I’m sure most of you have seen the New York Times article that speaks of the many distractions doctors deal with throughout the day. The article focuses specifically on devices such as smartphones and tablets and how they keep doctors from doing what they signed on to do—take care of patients.
Distractions are an everyday part of the job for physicians. They are regularly interrupted by staff seeking verification on a patient chart or prescription refill, by patients needing advice on a particular problem, by other physicians checking up on certain patients. The phone is always ringing and the fax machine is always going off.
What the New York Times article fails to recognize, though, is that the ancient (i.e., paper) method can be even more harmfully distracting than a medical system that uses technology. An office equipped with electronic medical records may not eliminate common distractions entirely, but an EMR can limit them. True, paper won’t buzz at you when you’re in the middle of a procedure and it won’t tantalizingly tempt you to log in to Facebook to see what your friends are doing that day. But it won’t keep you up to date on the goings-on throughout the week either, and it tends to pile up day after day, forcing you to stay at the office past dinnertime to get through the mounds of paperwork.
The constant beck and call of unfinished paperwork is a normal part of any doctor’s routine, as is the occasional phone call or fax. The phone has to be answered, and that paperwork isn’t going to go away on its own.
However, an office that uses electronic health records fully will see a significant reduction in phone call volume, and can say good-bye to the complex system of storing and retrieving paper charts. When patient information is available electronically, new paperwork doesn’t have to be filled out every time a patient comes back to the clinic. If you need to see a chart right away, it is extremely easy to pull it up on your computer—you won’t even have to leave the exam room. The plethora of information at your fingertips keeps everyone informed, reducing the need for those rushed phone calls or hasty chart searches.
Most office staffs already use some sort of practice management software, which streamlines a lot of processes and makes it much easier to handle insurance claims. Patients also benefit from the efficiency of electronic health records. Rather than calling the clinic, they can see their visit summaries and other important data on a patient portal (if the practice utilizes one).
In each of these cases, technology helps rather than hinders. When used correctly, EHR technology has huge potential to make the physician’s job easier, simply by helping them do what they do better. Rather than adding more distractions to your day, electronic health records can de-clutter your day, helping you stay more focused on practicing medicine.