Note to Developers: Quit Ignoring the Patients

FB post

A girlfriend of mine recently posted the above note on Facebook. Not surprisingly, several women (and a couple of progressive men) expressed similar discontent with the procedure; a couple of commenters said they were sure that a man invented the technology, while another pointed out that more women would likely be compliant with screenings if the process was not so unpleasant.

While I can’t say I love getting a mammogram, there are definitely other aspects of my well-woman check-up that I dislike more.  Lest your mind wander too far from HIT, let me clarify a few of the other annoyances:

  • Filling out multiple forms. My primary care physician and my gynecologist both have Epic. Why can’t they share my information with one another so I don’t have to fill out all this redundant paperwork?
  • No option for online scheduling or checking lab results. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am a fan of patient portals – when they work well. In fairness to my doctor, his group just recently went live on Epic and they have not yet launched their portal.
  • Looking at the backside of my doctor as he reviews my online chart and enters his note. (To be clear, I don’t mind looking at the backside of men as a general rule.)

The problem with mammograms, EMRs, patient portals, and other healthcare technologies is that too often the developers seem to have forgotten the patient experience. Case in point: EMRs. Having all of a patient’s visit record online is a tremendous benefit. Frequently, however, the EMR interferes with the patient exam because the physician seems to be paying more attention to finding the right drop down item than to the actual patient. Especially if I am sick, I want my doctor’s full attention and assurance that he/she is engaged and invested in my care.

I’m not just blaming the software developers.  Some of the blame goes to the government for requiring all the meaningful data that can seem irrelevant to the visit, or items like a multi-page visit “summary” that is too verbose and confusing to be of much benefit to the patient.  I personally love the idea of a visit summary, but it’s painful to read through all the medical jargon and other superfluous data. If I take my daughter to the pediatrician for an ear infection, I’d prefer a one page “summary” that includes a bottom line telling me, 1) give her antibiotics until finished and Ibuprofen for pain, and 2) call the office if symptoms get worse or she is not better in three days.

I am not sure who gets the blame for the whole explanation of benefits mess. I mean, who can glance at one and determine if and how much insurance is paying, if the provider is going to send me an additional bill and for how much, if the carrier is waiting on more detail from the doctor, if the patient needs to follow up with the doctor, etc.? And just when you think you are a semi-expert at reading an Aetna EOB, your employer switches to Humana – which of course has an entirely different EOB format.

Here’s a novel idea: let’s get patients more involved in the whole software design process. Not just those patients who love technology, but also my 79 year-old dad who still uses a phone book to look up phone numbers, or my sweet retired neighbor who loves to do her shopping from mail-order catalogs. I’m not sure how one builds a better mammography machine, but I am sure there are plenty of women out there willing to provide some input.

And yes, we do get to blame – and thank – a man, Dr. Robert L. Egan – for developing the modern-day mammogram

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Michelle Ronan Noteboom

Michelle Ronan Noteboom specializes in healthcare IT communications, marketing, and strategy. She spent seven years as an independent contributor for HIStalk and HIStalk Practice writing under the name "Inga" and as a freelance writer for various publications and health IT vendors. Michelle previously spent 22 years in healthcare sales IT working for Misys Healthcare Systems.

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