Electronic health records have been hailed for helping physicians provide safer, more effective patient care. But having computers in exam rooms can be distracting and erode the doctor-patient relationship, research suggests.
A study published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics found that doctors spent about one-third of patient visits looking at a computer screen. Although most doctors also used paper charts during those visits, they only spent about 9% of the visit looking at the charts.
Researchers said doctors who spend too much time looking at the computer screen may overlook nonverbal cues and communicate less with patients. It also can be difficult for patients to get their doctor’s attention.
“It’s likely that the ability to listen, problem-solve and think creatively is not optimal when physicians’ eyes are glued to the screen,” Enid Montague, an assistant professor at Northwestern University and co-author of the 2013 study, said in an article published on the school’s website.
The findings support other research that suggests maintaining electronic health records (EHR) can affect doctor-patient communication and physicians’ ability to build rapport with their patients.
There has been widespread adoption of electronic health records since the beginning of the new millennium, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Among office-based physicians, 78% used some type of EHR as of 2013, up from 18% in 2001. Federal funding incentives have helped drive adoption rates.
Various measures have been proposed to counter the possibility that in-office computer use by healthcare clinicians will inhibit communication with patients.
In an article published in 2015 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, an Indiana University School of Medicine researcher said physicians must employ patient-centric best practices when using computers in exam rooms.
Among other measures, Professor Richard Frankel recommended that doctors review a patient’s record before entering the exam room and explain how the computer will be used during the appointment. He also advised doctors to allow patients to view the computer screen, and said physicians should use graphs and charts to illustrate a patient’s health status.