Sirven: Electronic Records Upend Medical Visits

By Dr. Joseph Sirven
Published: Monday, September 1, 2014 - 5:05am
Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven

We are all busy these days and we want to spend our precious time effectively.  And technology is supposed to make things better, right? Here’s commentator Doctor Joseph Sirven:


What issue is making your doctor turn red? Malpractice? Workload? Time on-call? Survey says - Electronic medical records.  

Gone are the days of the handwritten note as the Affordable Care Act now officially requires electronic medical charts. Although the intentions of a searchable, accurate, and accessible way to maintain doctors’ notes are admirable, and yes there are benefits to aggregating patient data to look for ways to improve healthcare quality, the results are often dreadful.

These electronic charts upend a typical medical visit. They force a doctor to take notes, order tests, and find results by facing the computer instead of looking straight at- you. To make matters worse, only a few companies make the software for electronic records and that leaves us with only a few expensive choices, none of which are easy to incorporate into the flow of a busy medical practice.

This problem led to the creation of a new medical worker—the medical scribe, someone hired to take notes during your medical visit so they can enter the info into the system—despite the fact these systems are intended to save healthcare dollars not create new expenses.  When these electronic systems fail, everything comes to a halt. This happened to Banner Health last winter and it literally shut them down.            

When my hospital transitioned to a new system a few years back, routine work typically done in minutes lasted hours.  Time-starved doctors and nurses became data-entry clerks. Common medical phrases and prescriptions that I had written thousands of times before by hand had to be typed into the system. The result was staff outrage, anxiety and eventually gallows humor.  One of my colleagues even threw a memorable party to which he brought a piñata made to look like a computer.

So what do you do?  If your physician seems to be spending too much time looking at the screen instead of you, do what one patient told me she said to another doctor, “Excuse me? I’m the patient!” Two’s company, three’s a crowd.  

Dr. Joseph Sirven is a KJZZ commentator and the Chairman of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic.

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