PatientEngagementHIT

How Does Physician EHR Use Affect Patient Satisfaction Levels?

By putting a computer screen between a providers communicating with their patients, EHRs may pose challenges in boosting patient satisfaction.

Healthcare professionals may see various clinical benefits to EHR use, but how does this technology affect patient satisfaction?

ehr-use-patient-satisfaction

Research shows that EHRs present a challenge in boosting patient satisfaction, requiring providers to focus on their computer screens for proper electronic documentation rather than forging deep and meaningful relationships with their patients.

But these relationships matter, as does patient satisfaction. While the healthcare industry shifts to a philosophy of patient-centered care, providers need to ensure that their patients are comfortable with and knowledgeable about their care in order to meet patient-first goals.

By understanding the impediments EHRs and other health technologies may present in maintaining patient satisfaction, providers can begin to develop strategies to overcome such challenges.

Keeping the focus on the patient

In one study, patients reported higher satisfaction levels when providers spent more time looking at them than at their computer screens.

Higher clinician gaze time at the patient predicted greater patient satisfaction,” the research team, led by Neil J. Farber, MD,  reported. “This suggests that clinicians would be well served to refine their multitasking skills so that they communicate in a patient-centered manner while performing necessary computer-related tasks. These findings also have important implications for clinical training with respect to using an electronic health record (EHR) system in ways that do not impede the one-on-one conversation between clinician and patient.”

Other researchers have found similar trends. In a study also published in 2015, researchers examined video tapes of 71 care encounters, some with high EHR use levels, and some with lower computer engagement levels. The researchers found that while 81 percent of patients in a low EHR use session reported high patient satisfaction, only 48 percent in a high EHR use session could report the same.

“High computer use by clinicians in safety-net clinics was associated with lower patient satisfaction and observable communication differences,” the researchers found. “Although social rapport building can build trust and satisfaction, concurrent computer use may inhibit authentic engagement, and multitasking clinicians may miss openings for deeper connection with their patients.”

Can providers still achieve high satisfaction even with EHRs?

EHRs don’t have to be detrimental to patient satisfaction. In the first study led by Farber, the researchers concluded that better training in bedside manner and multitasking skills could help patients feel more satisfied with their care.

“Research has shown that when used properly and thoughtfully, EHR use can result in greater patient engagement,” Farber and his team said. “But, as noted above, there are challenges, suggesting a need for training clinicians to more successfully use an EHR system while simultaneously communicating with their patients.”

In order to make the patient feel more involved in her care while still using the EHR during the care encounter, Farber’s team says providers should share with them how the EHR works. By involving the patient in using the EHR and letting them know why it is being used as a part of their treatment, patients may feel more comfortable with having the computer in the room.

“Patients found it disturbing not knowing what their doctor was doing when he or she worked on the computer, and preferred being able to see the computer screen,” the researchers said. “This study suggests that it’s advisable for clinicians to describe what they are doing when they use the computer, so that patients better understand how this time spent inputting data actually benefits them.”

Recapturing the bedside manner

Providers can improve patient satisfaction through other interpersonal skills as well. While providers may need to grapple with their EHRs in order to meet federal benchmarks and to reap clinical benefits, they may still improve patient satisfaction through other means.

One way to do this is by having more empathy for the patient. In a study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers found that patient satisfaction can increase when providers’ empathy is noticeable. Overall, researchers found that 65 percent of patient satisfaction was correlated with physician empathy.

Patient satisfaction is proving important in the changing landscape of the healthcare industry. As care philosophies highlight the importance of patient engagement and involvement in their healthcare, providers  need to put more consideration on how technology and their clinical workflow affects the patient.

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