Could an 'undirected' office visit uncover missing patient clues?

In today's data-driven healthcare environment, it may seem impractical to conduct an unstructured office visit, free of electronic health records and predetermined objectives related to quality measures. But for physicians who have patients with whom they struggle to develop rapport or effectively address symptoms such as pain, anxiety or fatigue, that's the precise approach Gregory A. Hood, M.D., an internist in Lexington, Kentucky, recommended in a recent article for Medscape.

"Unfortunately, physicians are under a time crunch that squeezes the 'visit' side of medicine. The time available for idle conversation and bonding is diminishing," he wrote. "By contrast, our hunter-gatherer ancestors balanced their time spent in such pursuits with ample time socializing together. Although there are inestimable improvements in the quality of our lives since that time, one cannot fully shake the feeling that something inherently human has been lost along the way."

For physicians who want to reclaim this missing piece of patient care, Hood offered the following tips:

  • Remember that patients often associate their health with feelings of comfort, and therefore seek physicians who enhance their sense of personal comfort through human connection.
  • Try a technology-free patient encounter in which you focus just on looking at the patient, speaking and listening. Attempt to visit with the person, rather than merely focusing on his or her medications, diseases and pieces of information that are of interest medically.
  • Rather than seeking particular data points, leave the encounter open-ended so you can gather important information you may not know to look for.

In the comments section, physician readers acknowledged the value of Hood's ideas but noted that electronic documentation and proper communication needn't be mutually exclusive.

To learn more:
- read the article