Is your computer turning into a distraction when it comes to communication with your patients?

May 15, 2010

The introduction of the computer into the doctor-patient interaction has both benefits and risks.

Key Points

The introduction of the computer into the doctor-patient interaction has both benefits and risks. Still early in the adoption cycle of electronic health records, some physicians struggle with the challenge of communicating with the patient while interacting with the information system. For this article, we have interviewed C.T. Lin, MD, senior medical director of informatics at the University of Colorado Hospital, Denver. Our goal for this article is to help you identify specific techniques for improving communication while still using the computer to full advantage during the health care encounter.

"Establish a connection with the patient that will promote open and effective communication," says Dr. Lin. Accomplishing this can entail greeting the patient by name, acknowledging the presence and relationship of any companions present for the encounter, and introducing yourself while making eye contact.

Introducing the computer to the patient is also important, and one way to begin is by asking the patient for their date of birth to demonstrate your attention to detail in accessing the correct record. A brief statement about the reason you have the computer in the room can also be helpful. "We have the computer in the room so you and I have access to all your medical records and results during our visit" is one such example.

Using the information during the visit sends a strong message that you know them-recent visits, medications they are taking, social history, or private personal notes available in many systems reinforce communication and create strong impressions. Positioning the screen to form a triangle between you, the patient, and the screen may improve the ability to maintain eye contact during the encounter and prevent patients from thinking you were doing work unrelated to their visit.