The curse and blessing of electronic medical health records

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    (AP Photo/John Raoux)

    (AP Photo/John Raoux)

    Increased access to our digital health information has brought many more computers into our exam rooms, often creating a barrier between our doctors and us. So how do we make sure the human element of that relationship doesn’t get lost?

    Bob Wachter, head of the division of hospital medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, says it’s a tough balance.

    “We just haven’t figured out what the appropriate place of the computer is in the exam room and also how to optimize the technology so it’s less intrusive,” he says.

    Wachter adds that a lot of these growing pains will likely ease in the next few years, as record keeping gets less clunky. For example, he’s seeing a lot of advances in voice recognition technology, which means doctors wouldn’t have to type as much during patient visits. 

    “We’ve gone from 10 percent of doctor’s offices and hospitals having electronic records, up to close to 90 percent now,” he says “So, now, all that stands between a patient and his or her record, is a password.”

    While that increased access to information is often seen as a positive, many physicians say electronic health records can also be a curse. 

    “The electronic record has given license to all sorts of third parties to say ‘OK, now we can just ask the doctor to record these four or five more things,'” he says. “It makes sense in a vacuum, but when you actually bring that into the record, the physician can feel like a slave to the record and pay more attention to making the record look pretty than making the patient feel heard and be well.”

    Wachter says rates of burnout among American physicians have skyrocketed in the last few years and many cite the electronic record as one of the prime reasons.

    “It’s a feeling that ‘I went into this business to connect with patients, to listen to them, to focus on them and now I’ve turned into a rather unglorified, and pretty expensive, typist.'”

    To hear the full interview with Bob Wachter, listen to the interview above.

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