Viewpoint: What do patients think about doctors' use of technology?

August 7, 2009

Patients are more satisfied with their doctors' use of technology when doctors took the time to explain what they were doing with it.

"In the old days, before evidence-based medicine was so important and before there were thousands of drugs on the market, doctors just knew everything," says Weiss, a family physician in Youngstown, Ohio. "I always imagined that when I became a physician, I would just know things too."

Turns out you can know a lot, but nobody can know everything. So Weiss has always taken full advantage of the technology at her disposal, using a portable electronic device during patient visits to keep a world of information at her fingertips. But she also found herself curious-and a little self-conscious-every time she needed to consult the device in the presence of patients. Did they question her knowledge base? she wondered. Did they resent her PDA?

Perhaps most important: 31 percent of patients were more satisfied with their visit because the doctor used a handheld device, and 67 percent weren't affected at all.

What did Weiss learn? That most patients don't think about her use of technology nearly as much as she does-and that those who do are glad she has it.

The key, as always, is in the quality of your communication: The study also revealed that patients were more satisfied with their doctors' use of technology when doctors took the time to explain what they were doing with it.

Weiss heeds that advice, fully describing every use of technology in the exam room-even turning her laptop screen toward each patient so that they can look at it together. And so the devices that help her to "know everything" also fortify her patient relationships.

"The longer I'm doing this, the more I realize how much I don't know," she says. "And the more I'm comfortable with what I don't know."