The growing importance of electronic medical records (EMRs) to healthcare systems is evident, yet the debate concerning their impact on patient-provider communication during encounters remains unresolved. For this study, we hypothesize that providers' use of the EMR will improve patientprovider communication concerning self-care during the medical encounter.
Cross-sectional, observational study.
A primary-care outpatient clinic of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System in San Antonio, TX, USA.
A convenience sample of 50 patient/physician encounters was videotaped, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed to determine the time that the physician spent using the EMR and self-care topics discussed. Self-care topics included medication use, recognition of disease symptoms, diet, exercise, management of physical and emotional distress, self-monitoring activities, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, and family support/community resources. Two observers independently coded for the kind of self-care topics (kappa = 0.91) using the Atlas.ti software package.
Encounters averaged 22.6 minutes (range: 5–47, SD = 8.9). We identified two encounter types based on EMR usage: low use (n = 13), with EMR use of two minutes or less, and moderate to high EMR use (n = 37), with EMR use of five minutes or more. Average time for encounters was 25 minutes for moderate to high EMR use encounters and 16 minutes for low EMR use encounters (t test, p < 0.001). Issues pertaining to facets of self-care management were discussed in every physician-patient interaction (100 percent). The most frequently discussed self-care topics were medication use (100 percent), physical distress (76 percent), and disease symptoms (76 percent). Self-monitoring activities, exercise, and diet were discussed in 62 percent, 60 percent, and 46 percent of the 50 encounters respectively. Emotional distress (26 percent), smoking (30 percent), family support/community resources (26 percent), and alcohol consumption (20 percent) were the least discussed issues.
Encounters were similar with respect to the kinds of self-care elements discussed. However, EMR use encounters were more likely to include a higher number of self-care topics raised by physicians than low EMR use encounters, particularly on disease symptoms (odds ratio = 4.4, p = 0.05), and physical distress (odds ratio = 7.4, p = 0.006). A significant correlation was observed between the number of self-care elements discussed and time spent on the EMR (r = 0.6, p < 0.05), but no correlation was observed between the length of the encounter and self-care discussion (r = 0.009, p = 0.90).
The use of an EMR during encounters is associated with an increase in the number of self-care topics raised by physicians. EMRs offer the opportunity to involve patients and physicians in discussion of self-care during patients' visits. Given the current emphasis on the widespread implementation of EMRs, future EMRs should be designed to systematically facilitate the integration of EMRs into clinical exchanges about self-care.