It’s one of the conundrums of modern life that time-saving technology sometimes takes more time than it saves us.
For instance, email is quicker than a phone call, and yet office workers spend an average of 4 hours a day checking their email. We're somehow spending so much time managing the technology of connection that we have less time to actually... connect.
And medicine is no different — healthcare providers are spending dramatically increased times interacting with EHRs/EMRs and plummeting hours with patients.
It’s disturbing but true: a study of first-year residents shows that 43% of their time is spent interacting with electronic medical records — that’s 3 times more than they spend interacting with patients. In fact, according to JAMA, they spend nearly 90% of their time away from patients.
The problem with this time split isn't so much that it's not efficient. The problem is that healthcare's most valuable assets — the human beings who are our healthcare providers — aren't being used to their "highest and best" potential. That matters for the output that we see from them (in terms of quality of care and innovation) as well as for the long-term sustainability of healthcare (considering the sky-high rates of healthcare provider burnout.)
It's easy to look at this and bemoan the use of technology in medicine. Perhaps technology is inherently distracting, alienating, and time-consuming?
Personally, I don't think so. Technology can detract from our time with patients or it can add to it. What makes the difference is whether the technology we are using has been thoughtfully designed, intuitively structured, and whether it integrates into our workflow. The answer to all three of those questions for most Electronic Health Records is a resounding "no," which is why EHRs have become such a time-sink and distraction for doctors.
The truth is that we can’t go backward to an era of black doctors’ bags and paper medical records. But we can go forward to an era of holistic, integrated technology. And I think that as leaders in medicine, it's our responsibility to demand technology that supports human engagement, the art of medicine, connection and collaboration with our colleagues, and the highest and best use of our time. This demand of our technology is far from frivolous; it's key to our ability to uphold our commitment to our patients.
Thankfully, I think that there are subtle signs that healthcare is beginning to swing its huge pendulum back toward human interaction and human-scale healthcare. As Dr. Zimlichman wrote recently, even hospitals themselves are becoming a "technology" that is unwieldy and shows signs of shrinking in significance:
“The hospital as we know it—a medical center crammed full of patients, beds, equipment, medical staff and service workers, and much more—is an expense society can't really afford anymore... Other industries—retail, banking, finance and others—have long used digital tools to enable clients and businesses to collaborate and connect, anytime and anywhere. Those tools are now available to the medical industry—and given the constantly ballooning costs of care, the hospital is a perfect candidate for its own digital revolution.”
In other words, its possible that we are actually at the peak of technology's negative impact on medicine. And that as technologies mature and healthcare evolves, technology may actually begin to bring medicine back into a more sane, human-centered way of working. As healthcare providers, we can usher that new way of working into reality — or we can resist it by holding tight to "the devil we know." I suggest the latter.
Curious how a simple technology like iClickCare actually works? Watch a 1-minute video to learn more: