Communication is an important part of the doctor-patient relationship, but it can be difficult for you to connect with patients if you're trying to take notes on a chart or enter patient information into a computer. A lack of eye contact during a visit can not only make a patient feel like they aren't being listened to, but can also cause both doctors and patients to miss critical nonverbal cues.
Balancing the Human Connection With Data Recording
A study by the Journal of Participatory Medicine found that patients view doctors who make a lot of eye contact as more likable and empathetic. However, doctors who use electronic health records (EHR) may make less than the ideal amount of eye contact. An International Journal of Medical Informatics study explains that EHR causes doctors to spend about a third of a patient's visit looking at a screen.
A lack of eye contact can lead to a failure to communicate effectively. A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that a physician's nonverbal behavior could influence a patient's satisfaction with their visit and their compliance with the doctor's instructions.
So it's essential to find the right balance between maintaining the human connection and recording patient information during a visit, and new technology can supply a means to do just that.
"The goal is to one day engineer systems and technologies that encourage the right amount of physician eye contact and other nonverbal social communication," said Enid Montague, an author of the Journal of Participatory Medicine study.
Hands- and Headset-Free Technology
The use of hands-free and headset-free documentation technology is one effective solution to this problem. These technologies allow you to record a visit or input patient information into an EHR in real time without having to type into a computer or take notes on a printed chart.
One technology that is being adopted by medical practices is Google Glass. As reported by CrunchBase, several companies, such as San Francisco-based startup Augmedix, use the head-mounted display to not only push information to a patient's EHR but also to query information from records. Augmedix CEO and founder Ian Shakil said that using Google Glass "will save doctors one third of the day that they would otherwise spend on EHR work."
A pilot of Google Glass and Augmedix has been in use at Dignity Health's Ventura Medical Clinic since January 2014. Physicians at the clinic reported a decrease in total daily time spent entering data into EHRs (from 33 percent to nine percent) and increased direct patient care from 35 percent to 70 percent.
"This technology allows me to maintain eye contact with my patients and have continuous conversations without having to enter information into a computer," said Dr. Davin Lundquist, a family-medicine practitioner and Dignity Health's chief medical informatics officer. "The ability to listen, communicate, and care is just as critical as the diagnosis, and this technology allows me to spend more focused and quality time with my patients."
Another app that uses Google Glass is drchrono, a complete health care EHR and EMR (electronic medical records) platform. The app lets physicians use voice commands to take pictures that are automatically sent to a patient's EHR, as reported by InformationWeek. It can also show real-time data streaming of a patient visit.
"Google Glass was a great addition to drchrono's EHR interface," said Dr. Bill Metaxas, a physician at The Foot and Ankle Institute of San Francisco. "It allows me to capture the first-person perspective in both image and video in a medical examination. Patients are impressed by Glass as a new technology and comment on it favorably."
Another technology system, Honeywell's VoiceFirst, allows health care providers to have a two-way conversation with EMRs in real time and works along with commercially available mobile devices and wireless headsets. Providers can enter patient information into the EMR while keeping their eyes and hands free and can even receive instructions from the system. VoiceFirst utilizes smart-field-entry technology that only accepts words or terms appropriate for each field in the EMR.
By taking the focus away from a computer screen or chart, hands-free and headset-free documentation technology can help you maintain the human connection with your patients by allowing you to be more attentive and present during visits.