Opinion: Why physicians should give patients — not the computer — their undivided attention

Technology is infiltrating not only the lives of patients, but also those of physicians, Caleb Gardner, MD, and John Levinson, MD, PhD, wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

"Today our healthcare system is losing its humanity amid increasingly automated and computer-driven interactions between doctors and patients," Drs. Gardner and Levinson wrote.

Physicians often spend most of their time typing during primary care appointments with patients. Even medical students and residents are not interacting with patients one-on-one as much, a 2013 Johns Hopkins study shows. Instead, they're interacting with computers.

Although technological progress has facilitated advancements in healthcare, it has also been a major factor in the deterioration of physician-patient relationships. As Drs. Gardner and Levinson claim, "the incessant electronic reminders and check-boxes that divert a doctor's attention while the patient sits on the examination table are a distraction equivalent to texting while driving, and will end up hurting patients."

EHRs and computer programs, which are now "central to the care process," are causing older physicians to retire earlier and young physicians to feel as though there's no humanity left in the medical profession.

The healthcare world shouldn't shy away from technology ─ it's has been instrumental in improving numerous processes. Medical practices should instead "be allowed to turn off the 'meaningful use' software prompts and return to the job of taking care of real people," according to Drs. Gardner and Levinson. "Doctors have an obligation to act as stewards of the medical profession and with humanity toward patients and should insist upon the undivided attention necessary to do so."

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