Objective: To assess physician-patient communication patterns associated with use of an electronic medical record (EMR) system in an outpatient setting and provide an empirical foundation for larger studies.
Design: An exploratory, observational study involving analysis of videotaped physician-patient encounters, questionnaires, and medical-record reviews.
Setting: General internal medicine practice at an academic medical center.
Participants: Three physicians who used an EMR system (EMR physicians) and three who used solely a paper record (control physicians). A total of 204 patient visits were included in the analysis (mean, 34 for each physician).
Main outcome measures: Content analysis of whether physicians accomplished communication tasks during encounters; qualitative analysis of how EMR physicians used the EMR and how control physicians used the paper chart.
Results: Compared with the control physicians, EMR physicians adopted a more active role in clarifying information, encouraging questions, and ensuring completeness at the end of a visit. A trend suggested that EMR physicians might be less active than control physicians in three somewhat more patient-centered areas (outlining the patient's agenda, exploring psychosocial/ emotional issues, discussing how health problems affect a patient's life). Physicians in both groups tended to direct their attention to the patient record during the initial portion of the encounter. The relatively fixed position of the computer limited the extent to which EMR physicians could physically orient themselves toward the patient. Although there was no statistically significant difference between the EMR and control physicians in terms of mean time across all visits, a difference did emerge for initial visits: Initial visits with EMR physicians took an average of 37.5 percent longer than those with control physicians.
Summary: An EMR system may enhance the ability of physicians to complete information-intensive tasks but can make it more difficult to focus attention on other aspects of patient communication. Further study involving a controlled, pre-/post-intervention design is justified.