Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
So, your doctor walks into the examination room, greets you, and sits down in front of a laptop computer, either the one that was in his or her hands or the one that was already there, on a desk or mounted to the wall.
Your doctor asks you a series of questions, eyes not on you but on the computer screen. He or she taps away on the keyboard, clicking from one field to the next to fill out the online form. Your doctor nods as you talk, maybe asking for more detail here and there.
Clients often talk to me about how the experience of meeting with their physician feels less and less personal. All that tapping and clicking is one of the reasons they feel this way. “I went in to talk to her about a few things and she spent the whole time clicking at me,” a client said recently. “I sure miss the good old days when she talked to me and not at a computer screen!”
But guess what? Physicians feel the same way: “I used to be able to talk with my patients. Now I have to click at them,” they say.
The electronic barrier: work with it, work around it
The computer monitor can feel like an electronic barrier between you and your doctor. You’re feeling it, and your doctor is feeling it. And to make your time together feel even less personal, that monitor has an electronic form that needs to be completed. This forces your doctor to ask a series of questions, making your conversation feel even more mechanical.
You might remember the days when doctors recorded a few voice comments at the end of your appointment that got sent off to a medical transcriber. Those days are over. The way that medicine is practiced has changed dramatically, as I am sure you know, and that includes the ways in which doctors have to keep records. Tap. Tap. Click!
Is there anything you can do? Well, yes and no. Here’s a start:
First, accept. Healthcare has to be delivered within certain best-practice guidelines and, like it or not, all that electronic record keeping is part of the deal. So the tools of the trade include stethoscope, thermometer, tongue depressor . . . keyboard and mouse. It’s the world we live in.
Don’t take it personally. Just because the computer monitor is the one getting all the eye contact doesn’t mean your doctor doesn’t want to have a conversation with you or doesn’t care about your well-being. The rules have changed, not your doctor’s commitment to you.
Have a sense of humor. One of the best way to deal with a frustrating situation is to laugh it off. And there has to be something funny about two human beings talking to an electronic device instead of each other. Who knows, your doctor might even appreciate you cracking a joke.
Look for the benefit. In spite of the lack of humanity, accurate and detailed record keeping does have a benefit. That electronic form forces your doctor to ask you questions he or she might forget in a more casual conversation. It helps to assure that your doctor can more effectively monitor your condition by tracking symptoms that emerge over time, as well as progress you are making. And these records also ensure that historical information that may be needed later is readily available.
Initiate a real conversation. Sure, your doctor has a limited amount of time with you. But still, you are not absolutely limited to whatever the computer wants to know. After your doctor has gotten the tapping and clicking out of the way, you can still ask any questions you might have. You may want to use your sense of humor again here: “I know I’m not half as interesting as the computer screen, but can we talk for a minute about . . .” (Said with a smile.)
You and your doctor. And your doctor’s computer. Clicking that computer mouse has become standard practice during your visit. Learn to live with it. Recognize the benefit. But don’t let it completely replace good old-fashioned eye contact. You still appreciate it, and so does your doctor.
Have computers in the exam room affected your doctor visits for better, for worse, or both? Tell us about it by commenting below.