Patient view: Don't you know who I am?

'It’s unfortunate that the administrative burdens of practicing medicine have made physicians so crunched for time'
By Michelle Ronan Noteboom
10:19 PM
People on crowded street

"Thank you for responding to (Company X’s) reception. Due to the lack of space and our focus on our clients, you and (your friend who happens to be a CMIO) will not be able to attend. Thank you for your understanding.”
-Marketing Specialist with Company X

This was the email message I received from Company X after registering for their social event at HIMSS15. It had been advertised with a big "Join us at HIMSS!" headline.

Just the day before, the company had sent me a confirmation email saying, “We look forward to seeing you!”

As I read this new rejection email, my first thought was, “Don’t they know who I am?!”

After that highly narcissistic moment I realized that this marketing specialist was likely just following someone’s not-very-well-thought-out process: one designed to cull out anyone but customers and hot prospects (which my friend happens to be, although the RSVP form didn’t ask for my guest’s title or employer.)

Obviously, the whole matter was handled poorly: No one likes being made to feel unimportant. Everyone wants to be valued – based not just on a title or employer, but on our whole person. So it’s disappointing when someone seemingly can’t be bothered to dig in a bit to learn our unique stories.

This all reminded me of an experience with a doctor a few years ago. I'd had a series of visits with a specialist physician over a several months and each time he walked into the exam room it was if we had never met before.

He would introduce himself and never seemed to recall anything I had told him during the last visit. He obviously didn’t bother to read over his previous notes before walking into the room. He made me feel unimportant – not to mention annoyed.

Nuance recently published the results of a survey that found that “the relationship between physicians and their patients is paramount to truly achieving engagement with patients in a way that matter most to them.”

Patients want eye contact with their doctor, a handshake, one-on-one conversation, and privacy in the exam room. In other words, they want to connect with their physician and be recognized for more than just their current condition. They want their physician to dig deeper and go beyond asking the questions required to for the chart note. Patients want their physician to understand their unique story.

Electronic health records are often blamed for interfering with the doctor-patient relationship. However, the problem is not the technology, per se, but how that technology is used. Nuance found that “virtually all patients report that they are comfortable with their physician using technology during a consultation."

In fact, the majority of patients believe that technology positively impacts their doctor visit, especially when used collaboratively for education or explanation.

How can providers establish a patient connection, despite the use of technology in the exam room? Here are a few of my suggestions:

  • Find a charting method that matches the physician’s workflow and does not interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. I’m one of those patients who hates when my doctor turns his back to me to access his computer. As a patient, I would prefer my doctor to either use a smaller form tablet or laptop, or a stationary computer that permits some sort of face-to-face interaction. And while I appreciate the benefits of using a scribe, I find having that extra person in the room is a bit intrusive.
  • Make an effort to engage the patient on at least one non-clinical subject. I realize the time constraints, but I always appreciate it when my doctor asks even the simplest questions, such as, “do you have any summer vacation plans?” or “where did you grow up?” I feel more connected with my doctor when he seems to recall some personal detail about me – even if his “recall” is prompted by a note in my chart. The smallest comments make me feel as if my doctor cares enough to want to know who I am.
  • Find a way to engage the patient in the technology. One of my daughter’s doctors has big computer monitors in the exam rooms. He’ll often bring up certain information on the display to help us understand her health status, such as her BMI over time. The visual not only encourages more questions and participation in the care process, but also provides some transparency into what the doctor is clicking into the keyboard.  

It’s unfortunate that the administrative burdens of practicing medicine have made physicians so crunched for time. Addressing a patient’s medical issues should always be the priority, and creating a chart note that satisfies billing requirements is necessary evil. However, as an industry we need to find ways to tweak the care process so that doctors have the time to develop a deeper patient connection.

I want my doctors to know who I am.

And Company X, I want you to know this: You are missing out on an outstanding addition to your party.