MD Anderson says patients don’t like computers in the exam room any more than doctors do

Doctors have long complained that the need to use computers in exam rooms unnecessarily takes their focus off the patient. A new study shows patients feel the same way.

A study of advanced cancer patients conducted by researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center measured patient perceptions of EHR use during their visits. The results indicate patients perceived physicians who interacted with patients directly and avoided computer use during exams as more compassionate, more professional and better communicators.

Reports and studies targeting EHR use have proliferated in recent years, with some estimates suggesting doctors spend at least as much time on computers as they do with patients—in some cases it takes up to three times as much of their day.

Frustration with EHRs has even led doctors to ditch the systems in favor of old-fashioned pen and paper.  

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The MD Anderson study suggests patients find physician computer use frustrating, as well. Researchers showed patients four tightly scripted videos featuring a mix of physicians consulting with patients both with and without computers. After viewing the videos, 72% of study participants favored the doctors who addressed patients face to face, with a notepad instead of a computer.

The researchers note that the current study’s focus on patients with advanced cancer may underestimate the comfort level of younger patients more accustomed to widespread use of computers.

While the study did not look at ways to address the problem, recent studies have suggested the use of electronic screening questionnaires may help remove physicians from the data-collection workflow and keep them focused on face-to-face interaction instead.