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Using Technology to Enhance Patient Communication During Clinic Visits

Key Finding and Impact:

Leveraging clinic room configuration allows the computer to become a facilitator to the patient visit, rather than a barrier between the provider and patient.

Computers have advantages, but may interfere with patient communication.

Computer use by providers during clinical visits enhances how patient data are documented and organized; however, it may have a negative impact on the patient-provider relationship. For instance, providers documenting information in the electronic medical record during a visit may maintain less eye contact with the patient. Dr. Jason Saleem at the University of Louisville studied the impact of exam room layout on patient-centered care, with the goal of using technology as a mediating device between the patient and provider.

Assessing the impact of a redesigned clinic exam room on patient-provider communication.

“Primary care providers are incredibly overburdened: every second counts. We can find ways to improve their experience and use technology to improve their interactions with patients.”
- Dr. Jason Saleem

In collaboration with the Veterans Health Administration, Dr. Saleem tested a prototype design to better incorporate computers in the clinic exam room. New wall-mounted systems allowed providers to share the computer monitor with patients while easily orienting themselves toward the patient and keeping the computer screen in view. A new mobile computer workstation allowed providers to rearrange the clinic room, including simply pushing the computer away when not useful or needed.

Using technology to enhance and not disrupt communication.

The standard room design and the prototype were compared through a lab simulation study. Although providers were heavily focused on the patient in both study scenarios, providers using the standard room design had less situational awareness and greater cognitive workload because they needed to more frequently change their orientation between the computer and the patient. Field observations conducted by Dr. Saleem found that both providers and patients were enthusiastic about the flexibility to move and share the computer screen. In addition to increasing patient-centeredness, this study indicated the feasibility of aligning patient technology with the model of patient care.

Research Details