Elizabeth Manias, Kathleen Gray, Nilmini Wickramasinghe

What’s the research –
If healthcare was compared to a team sport, we would find four key players: the patient; family, health professional and a new player, technology. The addition of the new technology player has really changed the dynamics of the healthcare game. There is so much investment and emphasis on how electronic information systems to address efficiency and safety but what of the impact on patient experience and the quality of patient and family interactions with healthcare providers?

Why it’s important –
Technology is not the silver bullet of healthcare improvement. It alone cannot achieve the improvements expected. Communication is perhaps far more important during the course of healthcare delivery. It is the quality of the interaction and information exchange between patients, family members and health professionals that drives quality and safety at the point of care. In all aspects of modern society technology is changing the way we communicate so profoundly that face-to-face communication could become a thing of the past. This could be a very real problem in the context of healthcare because it is often reported that the root cause of significant adverse events is typically poor communication.

Little is known empirically about the effect the proliferation of electronic systems in our health settings will have on patient and family engagement. Consideration needs to be given to how patient and family engagement evolves with the increasing presence of health IT pervading clinical workflow. We cannot simply optimise workflow without optimising patient engagement.

What have we learned –
Despite all the technology we might introduce into our health services, healthcare is still very human, relationship-based and interactive. Communication is core to healthcare delivery. In using technology to drive super efficient health services that can churn patients more quickly, there is a risk of heading towards transactional or ‘cook book’ medicine. That is, if it’s all about optimising standard practice through the use of technology, we may inadvertently begin to lose sight of the patient, and the quality of interactions between patients, families and health providers. This is a situation to avoid.

Who should read this paper –
Change managers involved in implementing electronic systems must not only consider the changes in workflow. They must also consider the changes necessary to optimise quality of communication and interaction with patients and families.
Health professionals who routinely use electronic systems to capture and source information during patient consultations.

To read the entire journal article, click here.

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Little is known about the effect proliferation of electronic systems will have on patient and family engagement.