Healthcare Business DEMYSTIFIED

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Why does my doctor use a computer in the exam room?

All physicians are currently moving toward putting all of their medical records on computer.  The United States government is encouraging this and has offered monetary incentives to help pay for the computers and software.  The physician office has to use a certified software program and meet certain meaningful use criteria to earn incentive payments.  As far as your doctor using a computer in the exam room, many physicians are currently trying to figure out which way works best for them.  Some are opting to take handwritten notes during the patient exam and then record the note in the EMR (Electronic Medical Record) after the visit is over.  Some are bringing a laptop computer into the exam room and are using it only to look up past notes or lab reports.  Still others are conducting their patient exam while simultaneously inputting their findings into the EMR.  Another group of physicians are employing scribes who accompany them into the exam room and record all pertinent information into the EMR.  This is an expensive option and not all physician specialties can afford to hire a person to carry out this task.

Many physicians are finding the current EMRs to be a challenge to use.  They are often cumbersome to enter information into and are not necessarily properly tailored to the doctor's specialty.  Physicians often lament that finding old notes or lab tests are often quite cumbersome and require many mouse clicks.  It takes a lot more time than it did when they paged through their paper chart.  Some physicians resent the time that inputting information into the computer takes away from their face to face time with patients.  They dislike the idea of having to focus on the computer screen and not on the face of their patient.

On the flip side, the electronic medical record (EMR) is easy to read.  No more deciphering the doctor's chicken scratch handwriting!  The medical record is always in the same format and the software requires the physician to address specific areas before he or she can move on to the next section in the note.  If the patient has a chronic condition. the EMR can look for specific tests to be done at specific intervals.  It can also note if there are any drug interactions when the physician puts in the prescription drugs the patient has been given.  Most software can generate recall lists of patients who are due for various things like mammograms or prostate screenings.  The EMR can be accessed from almost any location so the physician who is on call for her patients can have access to the medical record from her home.  As you can imagine, this improves the care that the patient receives after hours when the doctor can review the medical record and know exactly what the background is for every patient in the practice.  When patients call the office and request a change in a medication, the physician can quickly review what was given to the patient and make adjustments.  The adjustments are quickly recorded in the EMR so the pharmaceutical information for each patient is always up to date with the correct dose, strength and refill request date. 

Computers in the medical office are here to stay.  They bring a new level of medical record management to every medical practice in the United States.  Although they currently have some shortcomings. they will continue to improve over time and we will all benefit from their further development.