NOV 16, 2012 10:28am ET

‘Damn damn damn’

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Definitely not the first word you want to hear repeated when you’re sitting in front of a physician, but that’s what I got when I went in for a pre-op physical this week in preparation for minor surgery next week.

But it wasn’t about me, it was about the technology, specifically an electronic health record. “Sorry, didn’t mean that, this system is driving me crazy,” he said. “You’re OK.”

That explained the nurse’s soft chant of “c’mon c’mon c’mon” when she was entering my vitals a few minutes earlier, and the awkward gaps between questions.

“Are you currently taking any medications?”

“No.”

Mouse click.

Silence.

Mouse clicking.

Foot shuffling.

Silence.

More mouse clicking.

Throat clearing.

Me wondering, “Was that the wrong answer?”

Suddenly, action. “Do you want a flu shot today?” Mouse click …

So after the physician gave me reassuring news, we were going into another silent period, so I mentioned I wrote about health care technology.

“Do you ever write anything good about it?” Well, yes, I told him, there’s some good news out there, HIT is making a difference in many quarters. But not taking his eyes off the screen, he rolled out an analogy that sounded pretty well-rehearsed, like he’d been practicing it in front of a mirror while waiting for someone like me to walk into his exam room (or else he did it on the fly--he is a really, really smart guy).

“This EHR is like a really old car. You get up in the morning hoping it’s going to start, and sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. You get it to start and you have to drive really slowly, because if you speed up something’s going to fall off. And you know it’s a clunker, and it uses way too much gas, but you can’t afford a new one.”

Since we had ample time to talk as he was working through screens, he asked me about if other outpatient offices had the same problems with ambulatory versions of records systems their hospital overlord was using. Yeah, I said, I’ve heard of some similar square-peg-round-hole problems over the past decade. “You think they would have figured it out by now, don’t you?” he asked.

In a final indignity, to both of us, he spent a few minutes searching in the EHR for the order set of blood tests the surgeon wanted, gave up, and said he would call the surgeon’s office to find out. While waiting, I tried to log onto the Wi-Fi guest network, gave up, and played an epic round of Doodle Jump on my iPhone. The doctor went out and about, seeing more patients, or catching a matinee, and came back with a piece of paper I took to the  lab, which was about 30 feet away through a door in reception.

 

 

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