As someone who has been in the medical field for nearly 10 years, I have had the opportunity to follow many physicians. I started off shadowing physicians, standing behind them as they would speak to patients in their rooms.
Now, as a resident physician, I spend hours and hours each week in the clinic seeing my own patients. Every week, I read about burnout and how it impacts my fellow physicians. Every week, there are depressing posts about life and grumbles about physicians retiring due to EMR nonsense.
Recent surveys suggest that a third to a half of each physician’s time is dedicated to bureaucratic tasks like EMR charting. As an optimistic, academic physician, I decided to take my psyche into my own hands and do something slightly different.
This action is something that few other physicians do from what I have seen, but it is something that has lessened my feelings of burnout, and something that has made clinic very tolerable and—dare I say it—happy for me.
Small change, big difference
The action is that I don’t bring my laptop in with me to the exam room. The difference is startling in how much more effective I am in dealing with the issues that my patients have. Suddenly, the emotions that patients are giving to me become real. I can’t ignore the anguish on the depressed person’s face or the happiness on another patient’s face after I have helped her lose 40 pounds.
It helps me to connect with my patients and, more importantly, it helps me to remember who I am helping. Even though it adds time to my day to dictate into the EMR after each patient visit, I feel less burned out at the end of a clinic day. This is because I have spent the whole day giving my full, undivided attention to my patients. They are grateful in return, listening to what I have to say because they feel listened to.
‘Didn’t look up once’
I remember shadowing a physician who was seeing an elderly woman in the clinic. The physician didn’t look up once from the computer, instead frantically going through the chart looking at medications, labs, health maintenance reminders, billing reminders, telephone encounters, scans, and orders.
The physician did not see her face once while she told him a long, drawn-out story about her past. Even though the story had nothing to do with her health, it was at that moment that I noticed how disconnected our assembly-line medical practices have become.
In the eyes of the EMR, the doctor was an effective biller and a great cog in the system. But in my eyes, he wasn’t the type of doctor that I would want for myself. The personal touch is what makes medicine great, and losing that to the computer is often what burns physicians out.
So I ask those out there reading this: Let us return to seeing our patients, not seeing the EMR.