Patients Need Practitioners Who “Touch” Beyond the Electronic Medical Record

Patients Need Practitioners Who “Touch” Beyond the Electronic Medical Record
Dr. Abraham Verghese is an infectious disease specialist who writes and educates about the importance of human touch in healthcare. He recently spoke to attendees at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. The following is based on an article entitled “Patients Need Physicians Who See-and Feel-Beyond the EMR” by Kari Oakes, published in MDedge/Hematology and Oncology on December 12, 2019.

In his remarks, Dr. Verghese first declared that the EMR (electronic medical record) is “a system of epic disaster” and said that “[i]t was not designed for ease of use; it was designed for billing…” The daily EMR click count for practitioners, according to Verghese, is estimated at four thousand. It’s probably even higher for home care providers! For every hour of cumulative patient care, practitioners spend one and a half hours on the computer. EMR systems may dominate clinical life for many practitioners, according to Verghese.

Dr. Verghese quoted the poet, Anatole Broyard, who was treated for prostate cancer and wrote extensively about his experiences. Hoping for a more personal connection with his physician, Mr. Broyard wrote, “I just wish he would brood on my situation for perhaps five minutes, that he would give me his whole mind just once, be bonded with me for a brief space, survey my soul as well as my flesh, to get at my illness, for each man is ill in his own way.”

Dr. Verghese pointed out that missed opportunities for connection and contemplation are sacrificed when “the patient in the bed has become a mere icon for the ‘real’ patient in the computer.”

When practitioners and patients are separated by an “electronic divide,” quality of care may suffer. “We are all getting distracted by our peripheral brains,” said Dr. Verghese, and patients may suffer when errors result from inattention and a reluctance to “trust what our eyes are showing us.” “Patients have a front side – and a back side!” he said. “A careful physical assessment involves inspecting and palpating both sides!”

Verghese reminded the audience about the sacredness of touch and said, “[t]he very great privilege of our profession…is that we are privileged to examine [patients’] bodies, and to touch.” The gift of touch is not, however, to be squandered, Verghese said. The ultimate goal is to use touch to establish a partnership of wellness. He reminded listeners that something magical can transpire in encounters with patients that include human touch.

All of this is not, of course, to say that EMRs should be done away with altogether. Far from it! The point is that, in the midst of the imperative to use computers and other devices when providing care to patients, practitioners should not lose sight of the importance of human touch to patients’ well-being. Practitioners cannot overemphasize this point!

©2020 Elizabeth E. Hogue, Esq. All rights reserved.

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