Using Technology in the Exam Room

August 7, 2013

Here are five attention-saving skills you can employ to ensure your focus is patient-centric, while still utilizing mobile technology.

Your smartphone is like a double-edged scalpel. On one hand it provides lightning fast results and connections, while on the other it can be an annoying distraction that leaves patients feeling unheard.

Tablets, laptops and exam- room computers are no different. By enabling you to research, record, and relate in myriad ways, they can simultaneously detract from your quality of professionalism by shifting your attention away from others who are in your presence.

The thing with technology is that it can both help and hinder physician-patient relationships. Because nothing says, "I'm not listening," more than having your attention focused on a screen rather than on your patient.

How do you find a balance? Does turning your attention on mean turning your electronic devices off? Not always. In fact, you can use these tools to enhance your connections-if you use them wisely.

The reality is, health care providers are busy people. From endless on-call stints to ceaseless unforeseen rescheduling, it can be impossible to stay up to speed without the aid of e-mail, texting, social networking, and a dependable web-based communication system.

But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, remember this: Your patients need you to be as reliable as you need your Internet connection to be.

Here are five attention-saving skills you can employ to ensure your focus is patient-centric, while still utilizing mobile technology.

1. Use technology to clarify, not confound

You are the intermediary between the vast amount of information that is available externally, and what your patients are experiencing internally. Charts, graphs, and statistics can flummox some people. For them, it's just too much information. Others, however, find that seeing a video or illustration dramatically improves their understanding of a procedure or diagnosis. Pay attention to body language when walking someone through a website or asking patients to complete online documents. Confirm that they comprehend what you're demonstrating by frequently asking questions like, "Is that clear?" or "Does this help you understand?"

2. Touch more hearts than keyboards

The medical profession is a culture of multi-tasking, where it's second nature for physicians to effectively manage one thing while doing two or three others. But patients may see things differently, because they want your full attention. Calm the electronic chaos by setting your mobile device to vibrate whenever possible, and taking a moment to "sit a spell" with folks who just need to know that they matter and you care. More often than not, your thoughtful words and compassionate attitude will trump any electronic explanation you can offer.

3. BYOB

Standing for Bring Your Own Behavior, this acronym is one more way to mind your medical manners. Just because everyone else is constantly staring at their smartphones or tapping on their tablets doesn't mean you have to. Pay attention to your environment. Whether you're walking down the corridor or eating lunch in the cafeteria, be aware of what's going on around - and within - you. Doing so may be what it takes to make your next decision more mindful, or your next connection more meaningful.

4. Consider the source

It's unlikely that you absolutely must reply to a friend's text or your child's plea for new jeans while midway through examining a patient or consulting with a colleague. Believe it or not, that actually happens. We are so used to viewing every beep, buzz, and bell as being urgent that we've lost sight of just how often we lose focus. Screen what's on your mobile device before impulsively responding to every message at breakneck speed. Even though it just takes a second to fire off a quick reply, that second can interrupt the flow of a life-changing conversation.

5. Send with care

When it comes to communicating with patients electronically, haste really does make waste. Don't pepper them with unnecessary messages or irrelevant links, and make sure the information you forward is in understandable lay terms. Whether you're composing an e-mail or tapping a text, it's wise to take a moment to think about your core message to make sure it comes through loud and clear. Sloppy communication can easily be misinterpreted as a poor reflection of the quality of your care.

By examining your use of technology you can ensure efficiency, maximize educational opportunities, and, most of all, develop strong professional bonds with patients.

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO™, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility and professionalism consultant, speaker, author, and coach who helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect, and create courteous corporate cultures. www.TheCivilityCEO.com