Young doctors spend more time looking at screens than at patients

Most doctors were forced into the age of electronic health records (EHRs) — for better or for worse. For the most part, I actually enjoy EHRs…although if you think my handwriting was bad before, it has gotten progressively worse since I started using them. But all kidding aside, the only thing I really dislike about EHRs is that I find myself looking at the computer and not at the patient. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s a necessary part of doing business, as they say.

Of course, I’m not alone in having less “face time” with patients. According to a new study, medical residents at a Swiss teaching hospital spend almost half of their workday on the computer, which is approximately three times the amount of time they spend with patients. Thankfully, I’m not that bad.

But that’s because I make a conscious effort to keep the lines of communication going with my patients. I’ve had to adjust my practice and the way I treat patients to incorporate technology. And it was a priority to me to maintain some level of personal interaction despite the increasingly digital environment.

After all, direct patient care is the most important part of my job. And it’s what I was taught to do during my residency. So for old-timers like me, technology comes second.

New doctors, on the other hand, are developing their skills in this digital environment. In every bit of their medical experience, they’ve had a computer between them and the people they’re helping.

And the worst part is that after they leave their patients, their computer work isn’t done. The record keeping and electronic hoops they need to jump through can consume their whole day if they let it.

In fact, according to the study I mentioned above, the residents reported spending 1.7 hours each day with patients. On the other hand, they’re spending 5.2 hours each day on the computer.

On the whole, only 28 percent of residents’ time was spent on tasks directly related to the patient. Those might include clinical procedures, admissions, and rounds. The bulk of their time —52 percent — was dedicated to things like EHRs, searching for information, and handing off the patient to the next doctor.

That left only 14.6 minutes per day to spend on actual direct patient care.

Is this what medicine has become? I find it startling, and I don’t like it. But the powers that be want it this way. Why? So they can monitor what we do and insert themselves into our decision-making. I can’t tell you how many times the program I’m required to use for patient records tells me that a patient is underweight or overweight when they are not. It can be infuriating. But again, I’ve been practicing medicine long enough to realize that I know my patients better than a computer program does. So while it makes me a little crazy, it doesn’t impede my ability to care for my patients.

Young doctors — and their patients — are the ones who will bear the brunt of this “evolution.” They are just starting out, and it is the only thing they are learning — to look at the screen and trust what it says.

This mirrors what is going on in the United States as a whole as well. Millennials hardly know how to interact with each other as it is. And now with the advent of the EHR, it is only getting worse.

Direct patient care is more important in my book and it is exactly what residents need to be learning, not how to document things on a computer. I have had patients tell me that they have been to doctors who have barely looked at them the entire visit. That isn’t right.

Can you imagine what type of doctor these residents will become? Certainly not one I would want to see. But, I think it is all part of the grand plot to eliminate doctors altogether. It’s bad enough they call us “healthcare providers.” It’s a huge insult to reduce all our education, training, and experience to a generic, catchall term like that. I won’t respond to that terminology at all. I’m a physician. A doctor. But with the younger generation, they really have no choice.

The disproportionate amount of time residents spend on computer tasks compared with direct patient care is concerning — both for the patient and the doctor. This technology was supposed to make things better and increase the efficiency of healthcare practice. But that’s not how it has played out. Instead of improving healthcare, it’s detracting from it.

And the worst part is what it means for you, as a patient. You are being treated as nothing more than a number — not an individual with unique needs.

While they may want to replace us with computers, and lower-level practitioners, the interaction between a patient and their doctor is something I take quite seriously. And I won’t give it up for anything in the world.

I refuse to spend more type typing than I do actually talking to my patients. If your doctor doesn’t share that philosophy, perhaps it’s time to find a new one.

Turn on your skinny genes

I’ve talked before about the role genes play in your weight. More and more evidence continues to point to some genetic factors behind weight gain and obesity.

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