Paging Dr. Gadget: Does Your Doctor Pay More Attention to You or to His iPad?

Health & Wellness on 12.15.11
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The last time I visited my doctor's office for my annual checkup, I was greeted by a person who handed me a tablet where I entered all my information and even paid my co-pay before getting called back to the exam room. I slid my credit card right there on the device in the waiting room. It was genius a) for them to get their money up front, and b) for me to be able to leave the office as soon as I said goodbye to the doctor. But, once I'm in the exam room, I definitely want more personal interaction with a human rather than a machine. Or, rather a human distracted by a machine.

A recent New York Times article discussed the trend of hospitals and doctors' offices using computers, tablets, smartphone and other devices to help enhance the quality of care patients receive. The idea is to put information like medical history and prescriptions at their fingertips to help decrease medical errors. But, some recent studies suggest a phenomenon of "electronic distraction" that is taking the focus away from the patient and onto the screen.

For example, one peer-reviewed survey uncovered a potential distraction of cell phones during surgery. This study found that 55 percent of technicians who monitor bypass machines during open heart surgeries had talked on cellphones during heart surgery. Half said they had texted while in surgery. An anecdotal example in the article discusses nurses and doctors in intensive care units using the computer for online shopping.

In my own experience getting my annual checkup, the nurse never made eye contact with me during the visit. Everything she asked was being entered into the computer, and oftentimes, she wasn't talking to me at all, rather clicking around the computer screen.

Electronic distraction is not a new phenomenon at all. I am the first to admit a buzz notifying me of a text gets my attention or a ding letting me know someone @mentioned me on Twitter makes me look. However, I never thought this would creep into sacred spaces like operating rooms or even the exam room for your annual physical.

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