Docs using EHRs often overlook signs of depression

Electronic health records are designed to improve access to patient health information and, in turn, quality of care. Researchers from the University of Florida, however, have discovered a correlation between primary care doctors who use EHRs and decreased depression treatment for patients who also suffered from multiple chronic conditions.

The findings, published this month in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, looked at data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey between 2006 and 2008; overall, they reviewed 3,467 patient visits.

The researchers speculated that reduced interaction between providers and patients caused by the former focusing more on navigating EHRs was one cause. They also said it's possible that mental health issues went unnoticed because EHRs are focused on physical health.

"There is some evidence that typing these notes into the computer is actually reducing the amount of time that physicians and patients talk to each other during visits," lead investigator Jeffrey Harman, an associate professor at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, said in a statement. "If the physician only has time to address two out of three conditions, depression may be the one that they're not talking about."

An article published in June in The Atlantic accused today's doctors of being increasingly "tethered" to computers; as a result, the author said, care has become less personal. Meanwhile, an article published by the Associated Press in March profiled efforts by medical schools like Georgetown University to help future providers strike a nice balance between using technology and cultivating relationships with patients.

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract
- read the UF announcement