October 17th, 2011
My Doctor Is a Technophobe
I’m a patient, not a doctor. In the past two years, I’ve seen two different primary care physicians and three specialists. The details of my case would probably bore an audience of cardiologists (peroneal nerve damage and related orthopedic problems), so I’ll skip those. What’s more interesting — and surprising to me — is what I witnessed when each of these 5 physicians interacted with my electronic medical records.
I live in the Boston area — hardly a healthcare backwater. So most of my lab tests and imaging were available to my doctors right on their office computers. But all five had a great deal of trouble accessing what they needed.
One of the primary care docs couldn’t manage to navigate the system after he logged in and gave up right there in front of me. The other PCP (filling in for the first) was so slow using the system that, at a moment when I sensed it wouldn’t be embarrassing, I reached over the desk to point at her monitor and show her how to get what she wanted. “I need a little more practice at this,” she admitted. We both laughed and moved on.
The specialists had to download MRI images. Not one of them managed to access all the desired scans on the first try. One called in a front-office worker to help her. Another said to me, “We’ll make do with the ones we can see here.”
The last specialist was the most intriguing. After he tried unsuccessfully to locate the desired images, I offered to help, and we quickly found what he was looking for. Then, in a moment of candor, he confessed to me that he usually reviews scans in private because he’s “bad with computers” and it takes him a while to “work the thing” (his words). Then he said, “I may be an MD, but I’m a technophobe.” Yes, he used that term.
“That’s okay,” I said. “I’ve got my own phobias.” Again, we laughed and moved on.
All 5 of these doctors are competent professionals. I never questioned the quality of their care. But their discomfort with technology took me by surprise, especially given that the oldest of the five is in what I would guess to be his late fifties, the youngest barely 40 — certainly not old fogeys.
Now I suppose it could be that cardiologists are a notch above PCPs, neurologists, and orthopedists. You technology whizzes may be scoffing at these amateurs. And, of course, these records systems should be more user-friendly. But the consistency of my physicians’ awkwardness with systems that I (no technology whiz) was able to help them navigate does make me wonder how pervasive technophobia is among MDs.
Are there substantial percentages of physicians who are hiding their lack of computer skills out of shame? Or did I, by chance, find myself encountering some of the few who fit this technophobe profile? Are you personally as comfortable with technology as you’d like to be? What do you do when technology stumps you on the job?