Dr. Murray Feingold: Man vs. machine in the doctor's office

Dr. Murray Feingold

High tech has invaded the inner sanctum of the doctor's examining room. At one time, this was a private space dedicated to doctor and patient.

No more. Computers have invaded this inner sanctum. This menage a trois in the examining room –– doctor, patient and computer –– has resulted in mixed reviews.

It is certainly agreed that the computer is a worthwhile addition to the medical scene. Patients’ medical information can be stored there, and a wealth of medical information is available with a click of the mouse.

But some patients consider computers as an intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship, especially if the doctor pays more attention to the computer than to the patient.

Many patients have complained to me that their doctor does just that. Most of the doctor's time is spent looking at or typing into the computer. There is much less face-to-face contact.

Of course, this is the doctor's fault and not the computer's. There have been many studies on this subject, and the results of the majority of them indicate patients do accept the presence of a computer in the examining room.

But what is important is how the physician utilizes the computer. To assure that the computer is used properly, one hospital instituted a program titled "Be LEVEL with your patient."

The eponym LEVEL stands for: Let your patient look at what you are doing; Eye contact with the patient; Value the computer as a tool; and, Log off, and inform your patient you are doing so.

Some years ago, I was informed by one of my colleagues that I would soon have to rely on the use of a commuter to practice medicine. I responded by saying that when that day comes, it will be time for me to hang up my stethoscope.

Well, today I use two computers and could not practice up-to-date medicine without them, though I still use my stethoscope. The use of a computer will be successful only if the doctor remembers that the patient is the most important person in the examining room, and not an inanimate computer.

Ergo, the obvious conclusion, doctors should pay more attention to the patient than to the computer.

Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.