In today’s modern world, technological advancements have digitized the workplace. Emails are the primary mode of communication, records and files rarely make it from screen to paper, and cell phones make it possible to work mobily from practically any location. These developments have most certainly been revolutionary and improved productivity in the workplace. However, in the medical field in which I work I noticed with our increasing reliance on technology, we were losing the human element that is imperative to patient care. Sometimes, backwards is the only way forward.
Upon the completion of my medical residency, I began my career at a practice working under another dermatologist. During that time, I began to see the advent of record-keeping technology take hold within the medical community. Patient histories were being digitized, and systems were being created to replace paper forms with standardized computer entries. The value of these advancements can’t be understated, but with them I felt a shift in patient interaction. Instead of active listening and engagement with the patients, physicians (myself included) began to keep their eyes glued to the computer screen, making the patients feel like an amalgamation of symptoms rather than people. A visit to the doctor’s office is never really a way someone wants to be spending their time, and doing so can often exacerbate already present anxieties about a symptom or condition. As time went on, I began to sense that describing their ailments to the back of an office chair while we were typing away was only making the situation worse.
When I opened my own practice, I started out with the same systems of digitized record keeping and note taking. Flash forward, and my business had expanded to four additional locations, all of which were flourishing. My cornerstone was making our offices as pleasant an experience as possible, and no suggestion was too small or large for me to implement. I even got cable for my waiting rooms after a patient suggested changing the programming we had been playing previously. With all this, I still couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that there was more I could be doing to improve patient care. Then, during an appointment I realized that I had been so busy completing boxes on my computer screen that I completely missed what my patient was currently saying. Apologizing, I asked that they repeat themselves, but at that moment I knew I wanted to make a big change. This was my business I had built from the ground up, and I knew that hanging convention was the right path for us. For this reason, I made the decision to forego our computerized system of medical records and instead make sure time with each patient was devoted fully to active listening and succinct note-taking.
One of the most important aspects of this is providing undivided attention during an office visit. For that reason, I make sure my staff and I keep eye contact and maintain active listening when meeting with a patient, only taking brief concise notes to be expanded upon for our database later. To implement this, I developed a streamlined strategy with a strong team to ensure that clerical errors due to miscommunications are eliminated. Rather than staffing each location with different people, my team accompanies me from location to location. In this way, we are able to synergize and patient care is made the top priority. I have found that since making this change, employee turnover is little to none as my staff all feel valued and essential to the process. Some detractors would say this method decreases productivity, but I believe it is a common misconception that technology unequivocally leads to greater efficiency. It may be true that transferring patient histories between my five locations would be speedier with electronic records, but that minute time lost faxing a few documents is worth maintaining the human element that comes with connecting with a patient.
Good communication is imperative between a doctor and patient, and part of being a physician is not only paying attention to what a patient is saying, but also how they are behaving. When a patient comes to me I want to be able to make eye contact, engage with them, and make them feel confident in knowing I’m giving them my undivided attention. We’ve lost the need to develop this skill with technology, and since making the change for my business my staff turnover has been minimal, my patients have provided more positive feedback, and they have remained under my services longer. In business, it is easy to get swept up in the exciting new innovative technologies that are constantly flowing in at ever-increasing levels. However, I would encourage every person to follow your gut and make the decisions you believe to be best for your business, even if that means rejecting an idea that has become rooted within your industry.