The Rx for better care: Undistracted doctors

April 5, 2015


At one point or another, we all crave it. No email. No texts. No buzzing, honking or chiming notifications every time there is a new update, a faster commute route or an upcoming meeting.

We talk about “unplugging” like we’re intrepid adventurers carefully planning an expedition to a far-away

Jonathon Dreyer, Director of Cloud and Mobile Solutions Marketing, Nuance Healthcare

place, weighing approaches, reading best practices, talking to others who have tried it – or know someone who tried it. Did they succeed? Was it hard? What was it like?

Studies have shown that when we are constantly bombarded with digital information from multiple sources, our ability to pay attention is diminished, we are unable to recall information as readily and we do not multitask as well as those who focus on completing one job at a time. When applied to healthcare, these findings become a frightening reality.

The average office visit lasts a mere 12 minutes, during which physicians are forced to burrow through screens of drop-down menus in search of the right box in which to record the information, while the patient sits there still talking, or worse, saying nothing. In a recent survey, 73 percent of patients said that time for discussion was the most important factor contributing to better medical care. The lack of patient-physician communication is not only a signal of a broken relationship, it has the potential to negatively impact health outcomes.

The book “How Doctors Think” sheds some light on the logic and thought processes behind physician diagnoses, and in one chapter, Dr. Myron Falchuk, a gastroenterologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, discusses the importance of listening to the patient and examining him or her for physical and verbal clues about an ailment. The key to the art of medicine and providing excellent care, he asserts, is listening – both to what the patient is saying and what he or she is not saying.

So when physicians are multitasking, they run the risk of missing critical pieces of information. Research has shown many clinicians feel certain technologies interfere with face-to-face patient care, which means they aren’t always able to spend as much time as they would like with their patients, having the conversations needed to accurately treat and properly make a diagnosis.

While health IT is often cited as a culprit of distracting physicians, it doesn’t have to be. Virtual assistants (VAs) hold the possibility of immediately being summoned by voice to deal with administrative point-and-click tasks. This unobtrusive use of technology means the physician no longer has to turn her back on her patient. Imagine visiting your physician because of a sore throat, and while she has a tongue depressor in one hand and pen light in the other, she is able to simply verbally order you a refill of an antibiotic. And she never had to move her hands or take her eyes off you to do it.

Assistive technologies, such as clinical language understanding (CLU), also help physicians with time-consuming tasks associated with regulatory reporting requirements. Taking an unstructured, dictated patient note, which is full of important health details, and parsing it to identify the information that is needed for Meaningful Use and quality reporting, means the physician doesn’t have to waste valuable time clicking through menus to document the care she just provided. Instead, she is able to spend that time with her next patient.

We are reaching an inflection point with health technology. Without a doubt, it needs to make things simpler for physicians and let them focus on what they’re hearing (or not hearing) from their patient or family members so they can provide the best care. The correlation between patients feeling satisfied that their physician is really listening to them, and better health outcomes, has been well documented in recent years, and physicians have reported that their relationships with patients make up the most satisfying part of their job. The common denominators to better care – from both sides of the exam table – are the simple, human acts of speaking and listening, and technology is ready to start shouldering those administrative responsibilities that are ancillary to the true art of medicine.

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