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Personal Tech

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My 87 year-old father broke his hip this past weekend.  He was in Michigan for a party for his 101 year-old sister, and fell as he tried to put away her wheelchair.  The good news is that he’s otherwise pretty healthy, so he should do fine.

Still, getting old sucks.

During the whole situation around his injury, surgery, and upcoming recovery, one thing became very clear: technology can really make things much easier:

  • I communicated with all of my siblings about what was going on and gave my “doctor’s perspective” to them via email.
  • I updated friends and other family members via Facebook.
  • I have used social media to communicate cousins about what is going to happen after he’s discharged from the hospital and coordinate our plans.

All in all, tech has really made things much easier.

This reality is in stark contrast to the recent headline I read on Medscape: “Doctors are Talking: EHRs Destroy the Patient Encounter.”  The article talks about the use of scribes (a clerical person in the exam room, not a pal of the Pharisee) to compensate for the inefficiencies of the computer in the exam room.  Physician reaction is predictable: most see electronic records as an intrusion of “big brother” into the exam room.

To me, the suggestion to use a scribe (increasing overhead by one FTE) to make the system profitable is ample evidence of EMR being anti-efficient.

Despite this, I continue to beat the drum for the use of technology as a positive force for health care improvement.  In fact, I think that an increased use of tech is needed to truly make care better.  Why do I do so, in face of the mounting frustrations of physicians with computerized records?  Am I wrong, or are they?

Neither.  The problem with electronic records is not with the tech itself, it is with the purpose of the medical record.  Records are not for patient care or communication, they are the goods doctors give to the payors in exchange for money.  They are the end-product of patient care, the product we sell.  Doctors aren’t paid to give care, they are paid to document it.  Electronic records simply make it so doctors can produce more documents in less time, complying with ever-increasingly complex rules for documentation.

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