Surgeons spend years developing the skills they needs to perform complicated surgeries. Their intelligence is admirable. Their dexterity is amazing, and their knowledge can be awe-inspiring. A patient needs to believe these things about the man or woman who will be cutting into their body while they are out cold. But could all that admiration change when a surgeon displays less than competent skills on a simple keyboard?
A surgeon who is impressive in the operating room but clumsy on the keyboard may leave his patients with a bad impression. At least that's what Wen T. Shen, M.D. believes. He explained his concerns over his skill gap in a newyorktimes.com blog post, "Your Surgeon Seems Qualified but Can He Type?" Dr. Shen described his attempts at entering post examination orders and a summary for his patient while the patient was watching. He described his efforts as "…tripping over letters like a drunken giraffe." He was concerned that he'd ruined the confidence his surgical track record had in instilled in his patient. But the system required that he type in his notes instead of scribbling them in a paper file.
Why are keyboard skills so important?
Poor typing skills aren't a big deal until a medical practice goes digital with electronic medical record or electronic health record software. EMR and EHR programs are key elements of good medical practice management. They are important tools for eliminating paper files, upgrading medical record-keeping and billing systems, and bringing a medical practice into compliance with today's digital standards. The one drawback is that everybody – even doctors and surgeons – must type.
When medical offices implement EMR and EHR programs, it means everybody goes digital. It's difficult for a doctor to avoid typing in front of a patient when he must update records while the information is fresh in his mind. Also patients often need follow-up instructions printed out to take with him when they goes home.
What can a surgeon do?
Dr. Wen received some interesting feedback about his typing concerns. He also received a few ideas on hunting and pecking alternatives.
- Learn to Type – One physician suggested a basic typing course (that's what he intended to do). If there's no time to squeeze in a class, there are plenty of typing programs that allow you to learn at home.
- Practice Makes Perfect – Several people suggested that if a doctor keeps typing, eventually his keyboard skills will increase and the clumsiness problem will disappear.
- Take the Star Trek Approach – One comment suggested a Dr. McCoy style rejection of forced typing: "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a typist."
What if a doctor really doesn't want to type?
If a surgeon or any other medical professional has made it through an entire professional career without having to type, participation in a digital transformation could be highly stressful. If a doctor simply refuses to type, there are a few options:
- Digital recorder or phone dictation system – Dictate notes and reports and let someone else do the typing. This option would require a trained staff member to be on hand at all times to transcribe reports that needed immediate attention.
- Dictation Software programs – Speak and the program types what you say. Unfortunately these programs may present a problem if they can't understand and accurately transcribe medical terms and phrases.
- Outsourced dictation services – Professional dictation services are available online for those who can't or won't type. Some specialize in accurate medical transcription–for a price. Of course turnaround time could be a problem when a physician needs a document for a patient waiting in the next room.
If you are a surgeon or medial professional who prefers not to type, you have several options for getting reports and notes into the office digital file without tarnishing your image. But however you choose to do it, use will need a stringent quality control program to make certain finished documents are comprehensive, accurate, timely, and free of errors.