CALGARY - A University of Calgary study suggests that patient care is suffering from an overuse of computers in hospitals and doctor offices.
In the latest study, Dr. Myles Leslie from The School of Public Policy looked at health-care workers in the intensive care units of three U.S. hospitals. He found some doctors and nurses spent up to 90 per cent of their shift on a computer.
"You have the attitude already that this is becoming the job and the job is data management," Leslie said Thursday.
"The job really isn't fixing bodies and interacting with them. It's just managing streams of data. That's a big challenge."
Leslie said too much computer work for staff could lead to patients feeling neglected and to less communication between doctors, nurses and social workers.
There was a time when conversations would revolve around a patient's chart sitting at the foot of the bed, he said.
"Conversations about how I trust you. I think you're doing the right thing. I'm going to tell you I think there might be something wrong with the order you just wrote, with the prescription you just wrote," Leslie said.
"Maybe we have to ratchet back the computer work. That's going to help patients. It's going to make sure the possibility for dropped balls is so much less when we're actually talking to one another."
The study, which has been published in the journal Health Services Research, involved 446 hours of observational data collected from the three ICUs over one year.
The average time retrieving health information with the use of computers averaged about 49 per cent but was as high as 90 per cent.
Leslie said part of the study involved talking to patients and families who were getting less hands-on attention.
"The father of a daughter who was inside the room said they come up. They look at the numbers. They ignore the patient. They leave. This is not right," said Leslie.
"The experience ... we got from the families we were talking to was 'I feel like a piece of meat rather than somebody who is part of my care and really part of anything that is going on around here."
Leslie suggested it may take awhile, but hospitals and medical schools need to educate health-care professionals about a more balanced approach to patient care.
A study based on 2015 numbers and commissioned last year by Canada Health Infoway, a not-for-profit organization, heralded some benefits of digital health care in Canada.
It indicated electronic medical records, along with complementary technologies, resulted in $200 million saved in health-care costs.
That included less clinician time spent on chart management and a reduction in duplicate laboratory and diagnostic tests.
"We're finding ... an electronic medical record ... often improves the patient-clinician relationship in that there's an opportunity and empowers patients and helps them become part of their care team," said Shelagh Maloney, Infoway's vice-president of consumer health, communications and evaluation services.
"We have lots of evidence that says the use of the (electronic records) provides better quality care. It's better for the clinician, it's better for the patient and it saves the system money."
The report also pointed to reduced hospitalizations due to adverse drug effects and an additional 1.2 million additional patient visits in 2015 as a resulted of clinics being more efficient.