I spent most of last week in a brand new, state-of-the-art hospital, hovering over a friend who had undergone orthopedic surgery.  I was struck by how much hospital care has changed. I’m not sure when all this happened, but it has to have been pretty recently.  It wasn’t this way a few years ago.

For me, the biggest surprise was how much time nurses and other caregivers have to spend at their stations, looking at their computer screen.  They’ll came into a patient’s room to do a procedure, but then they go right back to their screens, I suppose to enter data before they forget it.  

When I needed to find somebody to help my friend, I rarely found her at the desk.  I took to looking for a lit screen on the dimly lit floor.

Even the most people-oriented nurse is either submitting or reading information.  It’s hard to yank them away. And you’d think this might result in better continuity of care, what with all this sharing of data, but from what I could observe, it doesn’t.  Care is as disjointed and fragmented as ever.  Probably there’s just too much information to keep straight. 

It feels really strange when you ask about something for the patient, and the caregiver will check the screen instead of looking at the patient.  Even when the patient and the laptop are in the same room, they’ll check the laptop first.
All that great clinical skill they’ve acquired, all the ways they figure out what’s wrong or what’s right with somebody, from the way they look, sound, feel and even smell – all of that is trumped by the screen.
What a shame!  Most of these folks are in the nursing or doctoring business because of the human-to-human contact, the caring, the rich sense of connection that comes from helping a person at a critical, vulnerable time in his or her life. Hell, they never forget you for it.
But now it seems there’s no time for a nurse to casually hang out in a patient’s room – where the great Art of the Schmooze can be deployed to uncover so much about what’s going on, what’s needed.  The floors (I was on three of them) seem dark and empty. And we had what you could call a do-it-yourself discharge, where we forgot to get a walker and a few other items.

I don’t deny that we’ve got some pretty amazing technology that can make a huge difference.  Thank heavens for it.  But checking a screen before looking at a live, breathing, talking, signifying patient?
Take care, be well, and if possible, keep out of the hospital!

All best,