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This week, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers from the University of Wisconsin labeled texting by physicians as a safety hazard for their patients. They point out that texting while driving is illegal in most states and increases the risk of crashing by a factor of 23. They note that multitasking (doing multiple tasks at once) undermines observation, communication, problem solving, and the development of trust between physicians and patients. They point to a study from 2012 that found completion of electronic medical records during patient care by physicians led to a 25 percent greater chance that depressed patients would not receive depression treatment. It appeared that the excess bedside record keeping inhibited a physician’s ability to recognize clues to a patient’s mental state. Other studies have found that electronic medical records took up 44 percent of an emergency physician’s time such that they only spent less than a third of their time caring for patients.

This editorial notes that the current visit-based, fee for service model makes physicians spend an inordinate amount of time filling out medical records for billing purposes, checking boxes to justify care, while limiting the amount of attention given to patients. They point out that a tsunami is approaching in the US health care system with an obese, aging population and massive changes in insurance status and the delivery of healthcare. They recommend changing work distribution, the distribution of medical tasks to allied assistants, current billing-documentation workloads, burdensome order entry, and administrative regulatory burdens.

They conclude that reducing “texting while doctoring” will decrease the possibility of a distracted physician from making observation and interpretation errors while caring for patients.

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