Increasing Patient Face Time by Decreasing Physician Screen Time

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Increasing Patient Face Time by Decreasing Physician Screen Time

Editor’s Note: Dr. Reid Conant is a chief medical information officer for Nuance’s Healthcare division. Dr. Conant has provided medical direction and leadership to his hospital through the deployment and optimization of CPOE and physician documentation solutions. Prior to Nuance, Dr. Conant served as the president and founder of Conant and Associates, Inc. which was acquired by Nuance in 2014. 

If someone asked you why you went into the field of medicine, what would you say? Some physicians may say they wanted to find a cure for cancer or create a new medicine for an untreatable disease. Others may say there’s simply no greater joy than helping a sick patient heal and feel better. While there may be a range of answers and reasons, almost all of them would involve the ability to directly care for people.

Technology has become a larger and more constant presence in medicine and is being used in innovative ways to help care for patients. But it has also hindered the fundamental practice of medicine in certain ways. The increased prevalence of technology has resulted in physicians spending more time staring at screens—whether it is a computer, smartphone or tablet—rather than making eye contact with their patients. When physicians constantly look at their devices, patients may feel ignored and frustrated because they need and expect undivided attention during an office visit or exam.  So while we can’t deny the promise and use of technology in healthcare, we also cannot overlook the impact it has on the primary participant in the healthcare experience or forget the reason that we went into medicine in the first place – to directly care for the patient.

Physician Beware: The Power of a Patient’s Snap Judgement

You may have read the book, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, which discussed how people use limited information from a narrow experience to come to a conclusion. That also happens in healthcare, and physicians should be fully aware. During medical training, we’ve learned that patients draw initial conclusions about a provider, including their abilities and interest in caring for a patient, often within the first 30 seconds of an interaction. This makes it even more critical for physicians to shift their focus from technology to their patient from the moment they walk into the exam room. This is something we’ve been taught since day one, but don’t always put it into practice due to time pressures and technology imposing on our doctor-patient relationships.

For a few years, patients were powerless when they walked into an appointment. They had to fill out lengthy forms, repeat the same answers over and over again, and often wait hours before being seen—with no recourse. That is now changing. Consumer-driven healthcare is gaining steam and the patient experience is an important factor in quality scores and the business of healthcare. Doctors don’t need to forgo technology entirely—it just needs to be utilized to benefit the physician-patient relationship as opposed to interrupting it.  The good news is that EHR systems are evolving and the right technology is becoming an important catalyst to helping give both physicians and patients what they need. Hospital systems need technologies that will improve efficiency, communicate information faster to caregivers, decrease physician screen time and increase patient face time. Improved face time with physicians will lead to more direct discussions, giving patients more confidence in their physician’s ability to deliver the best care possible.

Additionally, physicians are able to pursue and interpret patients’ non-verbal cues through looking, listening and evaluating symptoms during a natural conversation. The more time a physician spends paying attention to their patients rather than clicking boxes, the quicker they will develop a rapport with their patients and encourage them to come back. And it’s important to recognize that the power of a patient recommendation is stronger than ever before, with a recent survey showing that 70% of millennials rely on a family member or friend’s recommendation when selecting their physician.

Leveraging Technology to Improve Patient Experience and Care 

Physicians are overwhelmed by documentation, which consumes 43% of their workday and takes an average of 4,000 clicks a day. Entering patient data does not need to be taxing nor does the quality of it need to be sacrificed in order to pay more attention to patients.  Clinical speech recognition  can be extremely effective and an important complement to a healthcare organization’s EHR. Today, technology is advancing quickly and speech recognition solutions combined with knowledge bases offer Computer-Assisted Physician Documentation (CAPD) to decrease the documentation burden on physicians while improving overall quality and ICD-10 compliance.

Another area of technology that is currently in the works and has great potential in the future to increase patient face time is the virtual medical assistant space. A virtual assistant has the potential to augment both the provider documentation process as well as broader aspects of care delivery. Through taking advantage of these existing and developing technologies that help create more accurate clinical documentation for healthcare organizations, physicians will be able to spend more time being present with their patients.

Getting Physicians Onboard

Understandably, some physicians may think that using technology to combat technology is hypocritical. In my own practice, physicians were initially reluctant to further embrace new technology when that seemed to be the basis of their screen time problems in the first place. However, it’s vital that health systems educate their physicians on leveraging the right technology and recognize how systems have matured.

Think about how email is accessed today compared to how it was accessed 10 years ago. The mobility of email has evolved from only being accessed from a desktop computer to now being accessible any time through a smartphone. If we were still only able to check email through a desktop computer, it would waste time and be much less functional. However, evolving technology to allow for mobile email access in such an email-dependent world now saves physicians—and consumers—from many challenges and increases productivity, availability and responsiveness.

In the case of data entry, physicians can now enter data and orders electronically through mobile-based applications so they don’t need to go to a desktop, log in and type in all of their notes. The mobility and flexibility of technologies like speech recognition improves outcomes, increases access to data, gives physicians time back in their day and, most importantly, increases physicians’ availability to their patients. Therefore, adopting more technology is appropriate if it will increase physician efficiency and the overall patient experience.

It’s important to ask yourself: Did you enter the medical field to help and heal patients or to ignore them? Don’t waste time using technologies that will interrupt truly caring for your patients. Focus on optimizing the technologies and processes that will complement and improve the patient experience – not only will your patients be more engaged and satisfied, but you will be as well.

Featured image credit: Nuance Healthcare

Opinions expressed by HIT Consultant Contributors are their own.