One of the big efforts to improve the quality of medical care in the United States is the implementation of electronic health records. By putting our medical charts into electronic media, doctors will have more uniform access to our health histories, can be given ticklers for important screening tests, and can be told of potential drug interactions with medicines that were prescribed by other doctors, along with many other potential benefits. You can learn more about the advantages [and disadvantages] of electronic health records on my Getting Better Health Care radio program: “Will the electronic medical record revolutionize health care?.
These benefits may help improve patient satisfaction, too.
However, electronic health records have the potential to negatively impact patients’ medical experiences. DrScore.com research has shown that the No. 1 factor that drives patients’ satisfaction with their doctors is the patient knowing he or she is seeing a friendly, caring doctor. If patients find their doctors buried in a computer screen, punching buttons and typing, it could take away from the sense that the doctor is providing the patient personal attention.
There are some things doctors can do to manage the situation.
- First, don’t put the computer on one side of the doctor’s chair and the patient on the other. If you do place things that way, the doctor has to turn their back to the patient to see the chart, and that is simply not good for patients’ impressions of their doctor. I know, because that’s how things are arranged in my new office!
- The other thing that doctors can do, especially if their office is like mine, is to acknowledge the problem to the patient. Tell the patient, “These new electronic health records are helpful in so many ways, but one thing I don’t like about them is that I have to turn my back to you to look at your chart. I hope you will understand and don’t mind.” Comments like these let patients clearly know that they are being seen by a physician that cares about them and about their feelings. Letting patients in on one of these little secrets about medical office functioning also lets them feel like they are a part of the process. And they are part of the process — they are the very center of it.