September 20, 2010 | | Comments 0
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In-room computing: 5 tips to enhance patient-caregiver communication

When hospitals and medical groups transition to an electronic health record (EHR), many caregivers view the computer as interfering with, not helping communication with patients. I spent a big chunk of time reviewing the myriad studies about the relationship between bedside and in-office computer use and patient satisfaction. Based on all I’ve read, I’m convinced that EHR systems at the bedside and in medical offices can greatly enhance the patient experience of care and satisfaction.

Years ago (in the 90s), in-room computer use by caregivers was indeed a barrier to communication. Caregivers weren’t used to it and many resisted it. The systems were much less user-friendly, so caregivers struggled to access and enter information as the impatient consumer looked on.  Also, far fewer consumers used computers themselves, so few patients realized the benefits of the computer for their care.

Times have changed:

  • Caregivers are experienced with computers, resulting in a much quicker learning curve.
  • Patients are knowledgeable about computers and aware of their miraculous capabilities.  According to the research, most appreciate that the electronic health record is improving their care and making it more efficient, because all info is in one place, accessible from anywhere.
  • Patients wonder if their caregivers who don’t use computers are old-fashioned and out-of-date.
  • The EHR software is much more user-friendly at the point of service.

Five communication tips for caregivers who compute:

  1. Open your mind and build your skill. Even if you’re uncomfortable with the computer and your software system when you begin, don’t damn the computer just yet. Give yourself some time to learn. It helps to become so familiar with typing and using the computer that it requires minimal attention. As you become comfortable using your system, you will be better able to focus on the patient while also using the computer. During this transition period, to prevent the computer from hurting the patient experience, explain to the patient and family that you’re just now learning a new system that will help patient care.  Tell them that you don’t want the computer to interfere with communication, and apologize for needing to pay so much attention to the computer. They’ll understand and realize that your communication with them is important to you.
  2. Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is a myth. You can’t make the person feel heard when you’re looking at the screen and typing. The patient knows you’re not fully concentrating on them. Alternate the focus of your attention. Pay attention to the patient, then the computer, then the patient, and so on. Explain upfront that you will do that and why.
  3. Stay present to the patient while they’re talking. When the patient is talking, maintain eye contact and listen.  To view concrete video examples of staying present with patients, click here and then scroll down to the jukebox player and choose the video: “The Practice of Presence”.
  4. Explain what you’re doing as you go along. If patients are left wondering, many become paranoid.  Tell them what you’re writing and why. Tell them what you’re looking up and why. Sample explanations include:
  • “You mentioned several concerns.  May I take a minute to jot those down in this computer?  I want to be sure to remember them.”
  • “Let me check your results from a year ago for a moment and see how these compare.”
  1. Partner with the patient.  Invite them to view the computer along with you. Help them make the computer their friend. Demystify their information. It really is THEIR information after all. Providers and caregivers committed to patient-centered care are instituting this practice as a regular routine. Invite the patient’s questions about what you’re doing. If your EHR system has a sticky-note feature, attach sticky notes with the patient’s own comments.

In conclusion, EHRs, computers and really all technology for that matter can interfere with caregiver-patient communication, but they don’t have to (See When Using a Computer:  The Impact of Physician Presence on CAHPS Scores). Help your colleagues learn how to communicate so that the technology enhances the patient and family experience.

Want a more detailed tool for your caregivers?  Click on the link below.

Staying Connected to Both the Person and the Computer

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Wendy Leebov About the Author: Wendy Leebov is a passionate advocate for creating healing environments for patients, families and the entire healthcare team. A mission-driven expert, Leebov provides outcomes-based consulting services, culture change strategies with healthcare organizations, training and tools for enhancing the patient and employee experience. With more than 30 years of experience and skills in communication, training design and delivery, she is known for making hard skills accessible and motivating people to stretch and apply skills which set them apart. Author of 12 books for healthcare, Wendy has produced two groundbreaking video-based skill building systems that educate and empower all staff to deliver the exceptional patient experience consistently by excelling at caring communication. Wendy writes a free monthly e-newsletter - HeartBeat on the Quality Patient Experience - packed with concrete tips and tools for managers who champion the great patient and employee experience. Visit Wendy’s website for more great tips and tools.

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