Try an Undirected Office Visit, and Regain an Emotional Bond

Gregory A. Hood, MD

Disclosures

December 01, 2014

In This Article

Why We're Less Connected to Our Patients

It's commonly acknowledged that the art of medicine has been increasingly squeezed out of the patient encounter. The intruders take many forms: the electronic health record and data entry; formulary restrictions; prior authorizations; coding requirements; and the criteria du jour, whether that is meaningful use, ACO core measure verbiage, or others that have increasingly turned the patient encounter into a driven mission. As a profession, we are discovering that when one is on a mission, the mission objectives may take precedent over personal feelings and the big picture.

First, a disclaimer. There are clearly advantages and improvements to patient care to be gained by making sure that the requisite data points are met. Cancer screenings, diabetic lab follow-up, and so forth are associated with better outcomes. At issue is that the successful pursuit of the data element by today's physicians now requires a degree of singular focus and efficiency that fully harnesses our mental abilities as a hunter-gatherer species.

Unfortunately, physicians are under a time crunch that squeezes the "visit" side of medicine. The time available for idle conversation and bonding is diminishing.

By contrast, our hunter-gatherer ancestors balanced their time spent in such pursuits with ample time socializing together. Although there are inestimable improvements in the quality of our lives since that time, one cannot fully shake the feeling that something inherently human has been lost along the way.

The health information technology (HIT) revolution has made the examination room a frightfully efficient place for data gathering, but can you still identify the pleasures of undirected conversation with your patients? How robust are the bonds that you are forming with your fellow community members? Is this drive for efficiency leaving the path to trust and understanding to grow cold and overgrown?

By and large, patients want to be in the best health. With HIT regulations and requirements, we risk losing that which is difficult to codify. Namely, patients correctly pair their feelings of health with feelings of comfort. Patients seek physicians who can connect with them as humans first because encounters with those physicians enhance their personal comfort.

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