Twice in the past year I’ve had patients comment that they thought I was spending more time facing the computer than them. Now, granted, I’m still under the impression that the first guy, a thirtysomething techie guy who must have been facing some personal inner demons, (since he also later told me I was saying things during our visit that I would never in my right mind tell anyone), but the second patient had a more understandable issue. She asked me why I couldn’t just give her the lab results over the phone when all I did during our interaction was type the results into the computer notes and talk with the back of my head to her.
After I explained that I couldn’t get paid like that, compliments of her insurance company requirements, she felt more reassured and voiced understanding. However, it was also a jaw-dropping, very important, lightbulb, ding-ding! moment for me. Was this how I was actually coming across to other patients? When I thought about it, I realized that in my rush to get into the room and not “be late” to the patient’s appointment time with me, I was not understanding that I spent most of the time staring at the computer screen reviewing results and then documenting the results in the note, which of course, took additional typing time. I thought the patients valued an on-time doctor more than my face time, literally.
Later that week, I had dinner with a good friend who happens to be an orthopedic surgeon. He recalled reading a study that showed that doctors who sat down and faced the patient were rated by patients as having spent more time with them, even when, for the purposes of the study, they had spent only half as much time (in minutes) in the room with the patient compared with another group of doctors who stood up during their interaction. Human psychology is an amazing thing! and one I now use more often. Since the time of my interaction with that second patient, I now usually spend at least 5-10 minutes reviewing documents and “pre-charting” in my office before I ever enter the patient room. Do I spend about half the time (or less!) with the patients face to face? Typically. Do I touch the computer in the patient’s room anymore? Not typcally. Are the patient’s happier? I haven’t had a complaint yet …
Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC. He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC, as a solo practice in 2009.