Undoubtedly, the Golden Age of Technology has spearheaded vast advancements within the medical field. From providing new treatment techniques, to maintaining global real-time communication efforts, technological innovations have shaped the modern medical realm in ways previously thought impossible. Through these modernization efforts, technology has also imparted a new culture of communication, real-time data entry, and shifting of traditional medical practices. While the majority of these changes have parlayed a positive experience, technology based distractions have become a hindrance in terms of developing, maintaining, and caring for patient relationships. From distracted Doctors limiting face-to-face communication, to nurses generating patient notes throughout pre-screening, tech distractions can have a profound immediate effect, as well as long-term consequences, in terms of patient care.

            As the CEO and owner of Treasure Coast Dermatology, a multi-office medical dermatology practice serving local Florida communities, I have garnered profound insight regarding the role of technology within the medical setting. With a team dedicated to fostering long-term positive patient relationships, we have worked diligently to master the fine line between operational streamlining, and patient-first communication. Recognizing potentially detrimental effects of tech distraction, my team at Treasure Coast Dermatology has adopted a patient-centric approach committed to patient advocacy, confidence, and the maintenance of long-term relationships based on trust, commitment to care, and effective interpersonal communication.

            Helpful Tech vs Distracting Tech

            Various tech innovations implemented effectively within the scope of medicine have been paramount in the ability to treat disorders, appropriately diagnose conditions, and provide life-saving care. For example, I participated in extensive medical research for a new skin cancer vaccination, a feat that could prove to be life-altering for countless individuals across the globe. In those instances, tech has allowed for medical professionals to accomplish extensive goals within various specialties, rendering said technology to be vastly helpful in the medical field.

            Conversely, some tech has also proven to be potentially distracting, creating an environment not conducive to the best quality of care, and patient experience. Within any doctor-patient relationship, communication is vital toward garnering trusting, transparent, and positive long-term relationships. This highly sensitive interpersonal relationship can be fostered through effective techniques that aim to empower the patient, enable effective communication, adequately educate patients, and generate overall positive feelings regarding each visit.

            Through the constant usage of tech throughout an appointment, medical professionals can often lack eye contact, a core component of building effective communication. By being focused on a computer screen, medical professionals can sometimes miss the face-to-face interaction that is needed for a patient to speak openly regarding any potential concerns, changes in symptoms, or other potentially crucial information. Additionally, limited eye contact creates a separation between the two parties, with patients competing for attention with a computer screen.

            By missing potential subtle cues, limiting eye contact, and diminishing the natural flow of conversation that would occur within an environment free of tech distractions, medical professionals could be unintentionally creating an environment that is not conducive for patients to discuss pertinent topics, diminishing the overall capacity for providing adequate care. Without the ability to focus solely on the patient’s verbalization of concerns, physical cues and body language, and face-to-face interaction, medical practitioners could be limiting the possibility of creating a long-term meaningful professional relationship with patients.

            How The Patient Feels

            At Treasure Coast Dermatology, I see many patients for an annual skin check-up, a proactive appointment focused on maintaining care for the patient’s bespoke skin needs. Conversely, I also see many patients who are currently suffering from a skin-related ailment, have previously experienced a potentially life-threatening condition, or are otherwise concerned about a specific symptom. For these patients, feelings of anxiety, worry, and negativity may be present, and their trust is placed in me for providing them with my undivided attention, medical know-how, accurate diagnosis, and proactive treatment. For many patients, receiving appropriate care, along with a patient-first approach, has the propensity for calming their anxieties, propelling their long-term care with a positive attitude, and increasing overall confidence. These feelings of trust, positivity, and care could not be manifested without the creation of a meaningful professional relationship centered around the patient’s care, free of tech distractions within appointments.

            As medical professionals are seemingly always busy, succumbing to tech distractions can make patients feel hurried, as though their time is vastly limited with the medical professional. When a Physician spends the majority of an appointment typing notes, patients can leave feeling as though they didn’t even have a chance to talk through their concerns without feeling rushed. In turn, this leads to a negative overall experience, and certainly does not empower patients to proactively bring up any potential concerns. For many patients, bringing up sensitive wellness-related issues may trigger negative feelings in general, and a general sense of not receiving enough personal attention may render it impossible for patients to speak up, which can have devastating effects on continuity of care. In the case of a specialized field of medical practice, such as Medical Dermatology, patients can be highly effective at recognizing subtle skin-related changes, as they are encouraged to self-monitor any manifestation of symptoms. Thus, without the confidence to effectively communicate these changes with medical professionals, their care may be limited.

How To Combat Tech Distractions

In order to effectively combat the potentially detrimental effects of tech distraction, medical practitioners should first recognize potential distractors via extensive self-inventory, patient satisfaction surveying, and other tools for discovery. By focusing on daily operational practices from the perceived perspective of patients, medical professionals can develop a better understanding of potentially distracting practices. For example, throughout an extensive charting process, many medical offices may engage in on-the-spot charting via digital methods throughout the appointment. Though this may streamline processes subtly for staff, it is vastly beneficial to explore the message the practice could be sending to patients.

Within our own practice, we swiftly discovered ways in which charting patient notes throughout the appointment may have inhibited patients from proactively communicating about their concerns. Additionally, we swiftly recognized that within a medical specialty that relies on appropriately screening physical factors, limited eye contact could be vastly detrimental to effectively caring for patients. Thus, we pivoted operations to best suit the needs of patients, ensuring that each patient received undivided attention throughout the entirety of their appointment.

In the process of garnering honest feedback regarding potential tech distractions, anonymous patient surveys can be a great tool for receiving unencumbered patient insight. Through the use of these post-appointment anonymous surveys, patients can provide valuable reflections that could be otherwise difficult to capture on the spot. Within my own practice, we take patient insight very seriously, consistently focused on improving the patient experience through active engagement. Taking cues on everything from waiting-room television programming, to the desire to see new treatment options for a particular condition, patient feedback allows us to cater our practice to serve the unique needs of our patients, and allows patients to feel heard.

While specialized medical practices can vary greatly in regard to their reliance on technology, compromises can certainly be accomplished in an effort to balance face-to-face interaction with streamlined processes. If potentially distracting tech must be utilized to effectively care for patient needs, practitioners can work in tandem with their teams to develop concise plans for developing an effective balance. For example, in the case of digitally based questionnaires being integral to operations, staff can administer these screenings prior to the beginning of the appointment, allowing for the remainder of the scheduled appointment time to be spent reviewing the screening, in addition to face-to-face interaction, or otherwise normal appointment procedures. By dedicating concise times for specific interactions, patients will not feel as though the entire appointment is dedicated toward digital distractions, and is segmented to include time committed to interpersonal interaction.

            On a daily basis, patient notes are a vital portion of tracking progress, documenting any changes, and maintaining overall knowledge of patient concerns. Albeit cumbersome and time consuming, these patient notes provide entire care teams with vital information on a continuous basis. At Treasure Coast Dermatology, we have found that taking digital notes throughout the span of an appointment was counterproductive to the bigger picture of fostering meaningful relationships with patients, and empowering patients to communicate effectively. Thus, we have developed an effective system of recording patient visit communication via smartphone, and transcribing the data into an electronic filing system after the culmination of appointments. This method has allowed us to successfully capture needed information, without sacrificing the face-to-face interaction that is integral to meeting our patients’ needs. While many modern medical practices may believe that taking digital notes in real-time throughout patient appointments is the most streamlined method for maintaining timely operations, this method of automated transcription has been well received by our staff across the board, and continues to be a highly-effective compromise for our practice.

            Real Results For a Real Practice

            At Treasure Coast Dermatology, our commitment to limiting tech distraction, and increasing effective communication efforts, has led to tangible results that have created a positive reputation for our practice, empowered our patients to proactively communicate with staff, and generated an overall meaningful therapeutic relationship between patients and staff. Through our audio transcription of patient notes, patient survey and feedback system, and ongoing commitment to patient education and communication, we have been able to effectively care for all patient needs and relationships, without sacrificing operational efficacy.

            Through the implementation of the aforementioned tactics, we have been able to champion the notion of self-advocacy. From providing patients with proactive educational tools for their long-term betterment, to actively treating even the smallest insecurities and concerns, we have fostered a completely transparent relationship, in which patients feel heard, respected, and cared for. In turn, recognizing transparency and honesty as our commitment to care, patients are willing to provide valuable insight needed to maintain such bespoke care. As skin care is a lifelong journey, we pride ourselves on developing meaningful professional relationships needed to be a part of that journey for countless patients. By limiting tech distractions, we are able to actively engage with patients throughout the course of a lifelong commitment to skin care.