EHR is Compromising the Doctor-Patient Relationship, But AI Can Help

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By Shantanu Nigam

A strong doctor-patient relationship is the cornerstone of quality care. Without it, a doctor’s ability to make an accurate diagnosis is compromised as patients fail to confide key details pertinent to their health. If patients don’t trust their doctor and the treatment they prescribe, treatment plan compliance will be jeopardized. Unfortunately, the burdens of Electronic Health Records (EHR) force clinicians to spend less time with their patients and more time looking at computers, undermining their ability to form healthy relationships with patients.

The problem with EHR

Since the widespread adoption of EHR after the HITECH Act of 2009, EHR systems have improved documentation and reporting and have streamlined both billing and access to critical medical data. But implementation hasn’t been perfect, and problems remain.

Clinician burnout is frequently attributed to frustration with EHR systems, fueled by a combination of alert fatigue, poor user experience, workflow impediments, and administrative burden. The distraction and stress associated with EHR limits clinicians in their ability to form strong doctor-patient relationships.

Perhaps more than in other relationships, the doctor-patient relationship depends on open communication and empathy. In other words: a good bedside manner. Going to the doctor with a concerning set of symptoms can be nerve-wracking, and having a doctor who listens attentively and provides reassurance goes a long way to improving this experience.

But if clinicians are busy entering information into their EHR systems, they end up spending less time with the patient, compromising their ability to be fully present and engaged. In fact, researchers at the University of New Mexico found that clinicians are spending two minutes with their computer for every minute spent with a patient.

It can be difficult for patients to trust their doctor if he or she appears rushed or distracted by their EHR. But trust is the bedrock of the doctor-patient relationship, enabling patients to comfortably tell their doctor uncomfortable personal details, since they trust that the physician is equipped with the skills to care for them. 

With federal documentation requirements mandating their use, EHR systems are not going anywhere. But EHR systems and the data they collect can be optimized to improve the clinician experience and, consequently, the patient experience. Artificial intelligence (AI) offers a promising path forward to ease administrative burdens felt by clinicians, strengthen their ability to provide for patients, and turn data into powerful clinical intervention insights. 

Building a stronger doctor-patient relationship with AI

There is a common fear that AI will replace doctors and their judgement, with obvious patient experience ramifications. But this fear is unfounded. In fact, AI tools can automate administrative tasks and help clinicians make better use of EHR systems, resulting in doctors that can be more present with patients, in turn facilitating stronger patient relationships.

Part of the frustration with EHR is the sensory overload and endless alerts. Clinicians receive hundreds of alerts regarding patient safety risk, yet estimates suggest 80-99% of these alerts are clinically insignificant or false alarms. Many of the alerts identify patients already known to be at risk, wasting the clinician’s time. Clinicians learn to ignore these alerts, driving alert fatigue and burnout. 

AI can help combat alert fatigue by weeding out unnecessary alerts and replacing them with more relevant and actionable alerts, reducing the overwhelming volume of alerts while more effectively directing physicians to patients who would most benefit from their attention. Not all risk is modifiable, so to drive the greatest value for clinicians, alerts should identify patients whose risk can be reduced with the right intervention.

Finding the right intervention for each patient can also be aided by AI, personalizing treatment. Through the analysis of thousands of patient data points, AI can understand the clinical, social, and behavioral factors driving risks. It can also efficiently comb through the medical literature to find the best clinically-validated intervention for each patient’s unique profile.

With so many doctors chronically stressed, overworked, and on the verge of burnout, AI is a valuable tool for directing their limited time and attention to the patients who will benefit most from their care. By arming clinicians with insights into the patient’s medical history and their social determinants of health, AI can help doctors spend their time with patients more effectively and have more meaningful conversations. The result: stronger doctor-patient relationships, and better outcomes for doctors and patients alike. 

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