A picture is worth a thousand words

Today’s doctors are communicating with their patients less than ever before, even as their days grow longer and busier.

Physicians are pressured to see more patients in shorter encounters, while at the same time shouldering more of the administrative and documentation tasks associated with electronic medical records (EMR). The result is physicians who are spending more time looking at patients’ EMRs than looking at – or interacting with – the patients themselves.

Research bears this out. A recent RAND study shows that providers are frustrated by the high volume of clerical work, and the implementation of poorly designed technology, that hamper their efforts to deliver effective, efficient care. According to a study done by the American Medical Association and the University of Wisconsin published in the Annals of Family Medicine, primary care physicians spend nearly two hours on EMR tasks for every hour of direct patient care. These physicians spend an average of six hours – more than half their workday – interacting with the EMR during and after clinic hours. The same study found that U.S. physicians’ clinical notes are, on average, four times as long as those in other countries.

No wonder the country is facing an epidemic of physician burnout. Doctors have become coders rather than caregivers. They are tethered to their screens, filling out countless forms and responding to multiple messages, eating into their face-to-face time with patients. With more patients to see, they have less time to prep for each encounter, leading to sub-optimal patient experiences and poorer outcomes.

Ironically, while technology helped create this problem, it also could provide the solution. Today, there are new tools that can help providers make patient visits more efficient, enhancing the quality of care. These tools range from intelligent personal assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, which could listen to doctors and transcribe their notes from appointments; blockchain, which could decentralize data and put it into patients’ hands; and artificial intelligence solutions, which could transmit real-time alerts about a patient’s condition to his/her provider.

The most compelling of these new technologies are those that can convert people’s ubiquitous mobile phones into secure, easy-to-use connected health tools for documenting and communicating vital patient information visually – thus liberating caregivers from the tedious and time-consuming work of inputting words into EMRs. These technologies allow patients and their providers to track and communicate a treatment process through photos and videos in a simple, secure and HIPAA-compliant manner, eliminating many of the barriers impacting patient engagement efforts, such as geography and time constraints. By contextualizing data over time visually, patients and providers can track health and healing and objectively compare data, allowing for more informed decisions and ultimately, improved care and better patient experience.

The advent of these technologies means that the time has come to replace the standard of written medical records with visual reports. By empowering providers with faster, more accurate and meaningful visual data, these technologies can liberate them from the tyranny of inputting and reading thousands of words each day in EMRs, and allow them get back to doing what they are meant to do – providing quality care to patients.

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