I have a lot of respect for what electronic medical records can, and will do, for continuity of care, safety and quality, but I sometimes feel that computers detracts from both the patient experience and the provider’s ability to think critically. There is an art and science to providing the ideal patient experience and both must be respected and balanced. While the computer provides an important part of the science for us, the art lies in making the human connection and using critical thinking despite the temptation to let a series of questions blinking on a 15 inch screen dictate the flow of the encounter.
I’ve always had an issue with nurses and other providers focusing on the technology before the person during encounters. But I find that the more technology that is introduced, the greater the distraction from the human interactions. There are often pumps, monitors and computers that grab the provider’s attention immediately upon entering the room. I get that. Each one of the machines is talking to you. Each one has a report to give. And, their digital display isn’t going to complain about pain, ask for a drink or tell you about their fears. But beneath all the monitors, and on the other side of the computer screen, lies a person with feelings, a history and unique needs.
I was visiting my sister recently when she needed to be taken to the ER with signs of congestive heart failure. She has a rare heart condition and had a type of heart surgery that many health care providers are unfamiliar with. Unless the provider is made aware of this early in an encounter, her symptoms can be easily misinterpreted which could result in a life-threatening mistreatment.
When we arrived at the ER the triage moved quickly and appropriately as they learned of her cardiac symptoms. My sister was extremely short of breath making it difficult to talk. When we were taken to a room, I started to tell the nurse about her heart condition and her past surgery. The nurse turned to me sharply, held up her hand, shushed me and said, "e;I’ll get to that."e; She turned back to the computer and continued to check off her list of questions, which frankly, were not nearly as crucial to the situation as understanding her past history and diagnosis.
During each encounter throughout the ER visit, each person that entered the room looked first at the monitor, second at the IV pump and last at my sister. I saw the same thing when my mother was an inpatient and it saddens me when I see caring, intelligent caregivers lose sight of the human element. I understand that they are busier than ever before, but behaviors become habits and habits influence the patient experience.
Remember; where we put our attention implies the greatest value. Being truly patient-centered means seeing the person before the technology. As leaders we need to continually spot and recognize those employees who do this well.There is greatness all around us. Let’s be sure to spot, nurture and leverage the talent that will provide the best patient experiences.