When A Doctor’s Screen Time Detracts From Face Time With Patients

Electronic health records can help reduce medical errors, but when not used well they can strain the doctor-patient relationship. But medical providers — and patients — can learn skills to keep communication flowing even when there’s a screen in the room.

Dr. Wei Wei Lee, a primary care physician with the University of Chicago Medicine, and colleagues developed strategies to help physicians better relate to their patients while also working with a computer. There’s now a curriculum to teach clinicians how to use EHRs in a “patient-centered” way. Today, Lee studies the influence of electronic health records on the doctor-patient relationship. She’s interested in improving physicians’ “computer-side manner.”

“In the past, the patient could be the center of attention through that visit. Now, the physician is really dividing their attention between putting in orders and working in the computer without paying full attention to the patient. So, eye contact, having a back to the patient, awkward silences while the doctor is looking up something in the computer — all these can cause challenging communication issues for patients,” says Lee.

So what does effective screen-sharing look like? Instead of placing the computer between the patient and doctor, the physician can move his or her chair next to the patient so they are sitting side by side, Lee suggested. Then, the computer is positioned in front of both of them — to form a triangle.And if a computer is still getting in the way of conversation, Lee says patients shouldn’t hesitate to speak up. Her team developed a comic using a simple ABC mnemonic to teach people those skills. Ask To See The Screen. Become Involved. Call For Attention.