Is your doctor getting too much screen time?

You may have noticed it isn't just you and the doctor in the exam room anymore.

Computers, laptops and tablets are increasingly occupying your physician's attention as more medical practices record their patients' data electronically rather than on paper. This has changed the dynamics between some doctors and patients and created new communication challenges, research shows.

A study in JAMA Internal Medicine in November found that patients rated the care they received lower when doctors looked at a computer screen a lot during patient examinations. And researchers at Northwestern University discovered that doctors using electronic health records spent about a third of patient visits looking at a screen. The study, which analysed eye-gaze patterns in videotapes of about 100 patient visits, was published last year in the International Journal of Medical Informatics. Medical informatics applies information technology to the field of health care.

Electronic health records let doctors more easily access information about their patients, some physicians say. Others, however, find screens overly distracting. "I learn by looking at the patient and I think what I say may have a little more gravitas if I'm making eye-to-eye contact," said Michael Rosenbaum, a pediatrician at West End Pediatrics in New York City.

Experts say lack of eye contact is the biggest problem with having to input information into a computer. Eye contact establishes trust and a bond with patients and a lack of it can be alienating. It also prevents physicians from being able to read body language and cues from patients.

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