From Rockwell to reality: The evolving role of the physician

'In order to get technology to truly work for physicians, it must drive productivity'
By William K. Kapp III, MD
10:20 AM

In Norman Rockwell’s, Doctor and Boy Looking at Thermometer, a white-haired man in a tailored gray suit sits on the edge of bed and is engaged attentively with his patient. That physician made house calls and had the time to teach a young patient how to take a temperature. But, that was then.

The reality is that Rockwell’s physician actually spent more time providing care than documenting it. He wasn’t required to view patient data on a screen, document care on a keyboard in the hallway, or point-and-click his way through a checklist of symptoms. In today’s digital era, getting physicians refocused on patients means finding ways to integrate technology directly into current clinical workflows.

If it doesn’t work like physicians, it doesn’t work for physicians
Physicians speak a unique language. We observe and assimilate a lot of seemingly unrelated data points about our patients to come up with a diagnosis. What works for us is intuitive technology. We need an electronic system that captures the unique conversational interaction between doctor and patient—not drop down menus that miss the nuances of the patient’s unique story. Put simply, our ability to capture the complete patient story while remaining focused on the human life at hand is what the art of medicine is all about.

In order to get technology to truly work for physicians, it must drive productivity, be available on-the-go, and act as an enabler between physician and patient. For technology to do just that, there needs to be a layer of intelligence that rests between the user and the system—something that mimics the ease of the paper chart and mirrors our workflow while also leveraging the advantages of a digitized system that can capture, analyze and derive insight and connect dots between seemingly incongruous bits of information.

Moreover, while technology needs to keep physicians focused on patients, it also needs to do so without sacrificing full utilization of the electronic health record (EHR) and related data capture. Such technology must automate processes as appropriate so that physicians can focus on high-priority efforts and less so on data-entry duties. This will allow physicians to capture data in way that makes sense for us and the patients we serve, and also allow for the extraction of information for broader population health management initiatives. My organization is working diligently to bring such technology to life. We’ve assembled an in-house team to develop a cloud-based hospital EHR called ChartPad. Utilizing robust mobile accessibility and voice-driven technologies, ChartPad takes into account the needs of physicians while not losing sight of the critical importance of patient engagement.

Simplicity and intelligence are disruptive for physicians and patients
Simple, intelligent technology isn’t just what clinicians want—patients want that too. With the rise of the empowered patient, consumers are demanding better access to technology and personal health data in order to more effectively and efficiently manage their own care. As patients look to take charge of their own health and wellness, they will increasingly be in search of intuitive technology—like mobile apps and patient portals—that put the power of personal care into their own hands.

As these disruptive consumer health technologies come to market, the focus needs to be on instilling simplicity in how patients interact and engage with technology to achieve improved outcomes. After all, if technology is not easy for patients to use we can’t expect them to embrace this shift in personal health responsibility.

For physicians and patients, truly disruptive technology must do three things—increase engagement, maximize the efficiency of care, and be available anytime, anywhere. It’s this type of intelligent technology that will allow us to once again embrace the Norman Rockwell vision of the doctor-patient relationship. In the end, Rockwell’s image is not only what patients expect, but also, what we as physicians understand is the key to positive patient outcomes.

“Capturing the complete patient story while remaining focused on the human life at hand is what the art of medicine is all about.”

William K. Kapp III, MD, is CEO and chairman of Landmark Hospitals and Technomad. This article is one of several in the e-book "Gettingback to the Art of Medicine in a digital world," published by Nuance Communications.