Although Terry Gilliam’s 1981 fantasy film might appear to have little to do with the role technology plays in stealing precious time from healthcare providers, the themes of both ‘stories’ have something in common, other than just the title. The world of Time Bandits can be described in a single word – imagination. It may be a bit of a stretch, but in order to improve the patient experience and re-engage healthcare providers in a world of ever-increasing technology, we’re going to need – you guessed it – imagination… or perhaps a better word may be innovation?
We can all generally agree that technology has influenced our lives in countless ways, including the realm of healthcare. Time doctors once spent face to face with patients is now being slowly pilfered by technologic advances. When articles like ‘The Doctor Will See Your Electronic Medical Record Now’ become the norm, even the least industry-savvy among us know we have a problem. In this digital age, moving from paper charts to computer records makes perfect sense, but if that same technology takes away from doctor-patient relationships, we need to examine new and better ways to improve human interactions and solidify the critical bond that has always existed between caregivers and the patients who trust them.
Let’s face the facts: technology like the electronic health record (EHR) improves the safety and quality of care overall, but integrating this technology into clinical workflows can be challenging and can lead to unintended consequences. With an increasing number of patients now covered under the affordable care act, it takes more time to enter this large amount of data into the EHR, so it’s no surprise that the time spent per patient, and the quality of time spent per patient, is diminishing. Studies have estimated that doctors spend as much as 40% of their day with computers, and only 12% with patients – a drastic gap no matter your profession.
Now, I’m not suggesting that technology is ‘Evil’, like the character played by David Warner in Time Bandits. Actually, quite the opposite is true – technology plays a vital role in healthcare, and this role will become even more significant with further advances. The real challenge is leveraging new technology in ways that will improve and personalize the healthcare experience for patients and providers, to increase overall satisfaction for both. Harnessing clinical data as a means to improve individual episodes of care is critical to driving the practice of medicine forward, but collecting and using this data to engage patients and providers in order to facilitate the journey through the healthcare maze is equally as important.
For now, physicians are being drawn into the era of electronic documentation willingly, based on the promise of improved quality and patient care, as well as some financial incentives. However as they begin to embrace newer solutions that impact the effectiveness of communicating across care providers, it is the real-time measures of success that will ultimately drive adoption.
While doctors continue to focus on patients and their health, the efficiency of the system is also being scrutinized on a larger scale. A nation-wide transformation of work processes is occurring that will lead to decreased readmission rates, shorter inpatient lengths of stay, fewer medication errors, and – ultimately – greater patient satisfaction. Add to that the improved utilization of precious resources, and the result is higher quality and lower costs.
Odds are that physicians won’t suddenly have more time on their hands any time soon, and the ten to fifteen minutes patients get with them in the office will continue to be the norm. On the other hand, as long as emerging technologies help solve the issues that are distracting doctors and other providers on a daily basis, the relationship between the clinician and the patient can be salvaged. If innovation can renew a patient’s trust in his doctor, and lead to a feeling that the hospital is doing everything possible to improve his health and ease the pain of his journey, physicians may be able to make up for shorter face-to-face interactions. And as patients themselves begin to take more responsibility for their personal health through fitness monitors, wearables, and other yet-to-be-invented tools, this convergence of focus on wellness and disease prevention will change the meaning of the word ‘healthcare’ forever.
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