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Tablets in the Exam Room: Benefit or Annoyance?

By Brok Vandersteen

The last time I visited my doctor, I asked him how much my prescription would cost.

“Well, it depends on how much your insurance covers,” he answered. I asked him if he knew how much that was. He pulled out his tablet and did the calculation, finding the pharmacy cost of my medication and comparing it to my insurance coverage. It was amazing: I knew right away what I would have to pay — and whether I could afford it.

Some people find physicians using tablets in the exam room frustrating or annoying and wonder why the doctor can’t take his eyes off the screen long enough to have a normal conversation. But that view overlooks the incredible benefits of these touchscreen devices.

The Benefits of Tablets for Patient Care

More than half of all physicians use tablets to access patient records in the exam room, according to a 2013 study — and this number is only increasing. While some patients find this patient/doctor/tablet relationship uncomfortable and complain that it only distracts the physician and makes in-depth conversations more difficult, there are a host of benefits that make these devices an important part of modern medicine:

1)    Accuracy:Because they’re lightweight and portable, tablets allow doctors to record patient health information in real time. More immediate reporting leads to higher accuracy in patient medical histories.

2)    Organization:We’ve all seen a doctor enter the room, struggling with a stack of papers full of handwritten patient information. Tablets make all this information immediately accessible, well organized, and legible — allowing doctors to focus on patients and accurately track changes in their health and medications.

3)    Communication:A recent studyby American EHR showed doctors are using their tablets to communicate directly with patients. Sending an email about a follow-up visit or more information about a patient’s condition allows physicians to provide more personalized and efficient care. Patients are educated and more satisfied with the quality of care, and that makes doctors happy, too.

Expanding the Conversation, Deepening the Quality of Care

Tablets allow doctors to engage patients directly. Instead of typing notes on a desktop computer or scribbling them on paper, physicians with tablets can face the patient and still type notes in real time. By recording those notes during the exam, doctors save time on post-appointment follow-ups. Those extra minutes improve the quality of care for all patients who get to spend a few extra minutes with their providers.

Tablets can also add to the conversation between patients and physicians. Doctors can use tablets to explain complicated surgical procedures and health issues by showing a patient images, videos, and helpful graphs. They can also access research and drug information during the exam. Remember: Technology should only make the information and recommendations a physician provides patients with easier to understand. It should enhance a person’s understanding of her health.

This doesn’t mean that you should allow the entire appointment to be dominated by the clicking of a keyboard. Ask your physician for time to discuss concerns and technology. If you’re not feeling heard, address the issue. Most physicians will appreciate your request.

The next time your physician busts out a tablet during your appointment, don’t think he’s trying to dodge your gaze. Instead, appreciate the improved care and increased accuracy you’re likely getting from your doctor’s use of technology.

Brok Vandersteen is a Senior Member Outreach Executive at ContextMedia, a mission-driven patient education company that partners with healthcare professionals to educate patients on how to manage their conditions through lifestyle changes.