Embracing Technology Doesn’t Have To Come At The Expense Of Engagement – Communication Solutions Series

The following is a guest blog post by Amy Hamilton,  Marketing Manager of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Amy Hamilton - Stericycle Healthcare IT
In the New Year I set the typical health/financial related goals, but I also like to make small changes to daily tasks in an effort to enrich my life. For instance, last year I made the commitment to add more novels to my obsessive reading habits. This year, I’m thinking about the screens that I carry in my pocket, my purse, my backpack and on my wrist and how I could step away from them more often to become more engaged in the relationships in my life. This got me thinking about how this notion of screens getting in the way impacts a variety of relationships differently whether it be professional, family, friend or even the provider/patient relationship. We all know technology isn’t going anywhere. So how can we adjust our lives to better accommodate tech while enhancing our engagement in our relationships?

I think it’s safe to say that most professionals are like me. We look like we’re moving out when we travel from meeting to meeting with a stack of technology that we “need.” Personal phone, work phone, laptop, and tablet…the technologies we’ve grown so dependent on that we believe we can’t have a successful in person meeting without them.  I believe we have good intentions when carting around this collection of technology, but in reality the majority of the time we end up using the devices for web browsing, texting, email checking, tweeting, Facebook friending and sharing. It’s rare that the technology is used solely for enhancing the agenda of the meeting. Oddly enough, it’s so commonplace that it’s no longer considered rude or unprofessional to be on a device during a meeting or presentation. (I’m live tweeting I swear!)

On the contrary, there is a movement among families to ban technology from the dinner table, even Pope Francis recently said how important it is to have device free family dinners. He said, “The sharing of a meal — and therefore, other than of food, also of affections, of stories, of events — is a fundamental experience.”  My family and friends definitely make an effort during special dinners, but on a daily basis we are a technology obsessed group and we are rarely offended if our guests are communicating more with a friend on another continent than the people sitting at the same table.

So I’m left wondering… if technology is openly accepted in the office, but doesn’t belong at the family dinner table, but is common place during friendly gatherings, what are my communication expectations for my providers?

It’s no surprise, as a Health IT professional, that I believe technology contributes significantly to improving care delivery and overall patient engagement and satisfaction. However, it’s the role technology plays in the exam room that has me scratching my head. I’m guilty of peeking over my providers’ shoulders to see what EHR they use and maybe even mildly judging them based on their selection, but the real judgement comes when they spend more time looking at their computer than me.

I know I may sound like a hypocrite because I want my information documented electronically. I want it to be easily shared and referenceable, but more than anything I want my provider’s attention. I often find myself struggling to “find the time” for the doctor. So when I carve out the time for my health I want that time to be maximized.   I want to be reminded of my appointment via a text. I want to have in-depth, in person conversations about my symptoms and to review all possibilities of conditions. I want all necessary tests to be performed and the results to be delivered quickly.

I understand and accept that none of this can be done today without the assistance of technology and as a high maintenance patient I want my providers to have the best technology. But more than anything, I want to be listened to.

But if I can tweet about an article I read while also taking notes about the presentation my boss is delivering, why don’t I trust my provider enough to listen to me with intention and take notes in her EHR at the same time. Why are my expectations for my provider completely out of touch with my expectations of my friends and family at the dinner table?

I think it’s because this is my health we’re talking about here, and at the end of the day healthcare is a relationship, but also a service and any service is enhanced by personal engagement.

I have a great GP. She recently changed offices and is now in what I might describe as a “boutique or luxury doctor’s office.” There is herbal tea, large screen TVs and modern furniture in the waiting room. The office is equipped with state of the art healthcare technologies, and she was able to quickly acquire my medical records from her previous location. She does, however, sit in front of the computer when I’m in the exam room. At her previous location I felt like sometimes she was looking at her screen more than at me.

Since the move, I’ve never felt neglected like I used to. So what changed? It’s not her care style. She’s still on the computer. It’s not my expectations. I’m still a high maintenance patient. After thinking about it for a while I realized, it was so simple. It’s the type of technologies and the layout of the exam room that have made such a huge impact on her engagement with me. The new EHR has a more patient friendly workflow, less clicking and more dragging and dropping, less free text and smarter lookup functions. These small changes in technology allow her to be more engaged in our conversations. It allows her to document what I say in about half the time so she can look up at me more often.

In the old office the computer was set up so that her back was turned to me when she was typing. Without the swivel of her chair our eyes never connected. The new office, however, is set up in a way that when she looks up she’s looking right at me. Such a small change to furniture layout makes such a huge improvement in engagement.

It’s wonderful that we have the ability to multitask to the nth degree, but I think I have to agree with the Pope on this one; we’re losing the collaboration, interactions and affection that is at the heart of face to face meetings and gatherings. The changes needed to enhance engagement while embracing technology may not be as drastic as putting it down or walking away, but simply making intentional changes to the technologies we use, the way we use them and the environment we use them in.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms

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  • I completely agree. Doctors who can and do look at you while also updating notes are more in touch with you; doctors with their heads buried in the screens facing away from you are hardly even in the exam room with you.

    A few years ago at LIJ (Childrens Hospital on Long Island), a doctor that I found could get very pompous started bringing a laptop to her exams. At a certain point she would be sitting opposite you, laptop in between, she quickly took notes while still facing you, and her manner in the exam room greatly improved, with less time on notes, and more time discussing or examining. Also, some doctors use scribes to keep more fully engaged with the patient while avoiding wasted time – if the work flow is good this can work out well. There are many ways to approach this, the bottom line is not letting technology interfere with the doctor patient relationship. Also, some doctors are learning to leverage technology to better inform and keep in touch with patients.

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