Med Tech Report

Electronic health records and the lost power of prose


Writing a new chapter

Physicians hoping to create meaningful notes are often stymied by the technology at their disposal or the demands placed on their time. These issues, combined with an ever-growing number of regulatory requirements, are what led to the decay of narrative in the first place. As a result, doctors are looking for alternative ways to buck the trend and bring patients’ stories back to their medical records. These methods are often expensive or involved, but in many cases they dramatically improve quality and efficiency.

An example of a tool that allows doctors to achieve these goals is speech recognition technology. Instead of typing or clicking, physicians dictate into the EHR, creating notes that are typically richer and more akin to a story than a list of symptoms or data points. When voice-to-text is properly deployed and utilized, documentation improves along with efficiency. Alternately, many providers are now employing scribes to accompany them in the exam room and complete the medical record. Taking this step leads to more descriptive notes, better productivity, and happier providers. The use of scribes also seems to result in happier patients, who report better therapeutic interactions when their doctors aren’t typing or staring at a computer screen.

The above-mentioned methods for recording information about a patient during a visit may be too expensive or complicated for some providers, but there are other simple techniques that can be used without incurring additional cost or resources. Previsit planning is one such possibility. By reviewing patient charts in advance of appointments, physicians can look over results, identify preventive health gaps, and anticipate follow-up needs and medication refills. They can then create skeleton notes and prepopulate orders to reduce the documentation burden during the visit. While time consuming at first, physicians have reported this practice actually saves time in the long run and allows them to focus on recording the patient narrative during the visit.

Another strategy is even more simple in concept, though may seem counter-intuitive at first: get better acquainted with the electronic records system. That is, take the time to really learn and understand the tools designed to improve productivity that are available in your EHR, then use them judiciously; take advantage of templates and macros when they’ll make you more efficient yet won’t inhibit your ability to tell the patient’s story; embrace optimization but don’t compromise on narrative. By carefully choosing your words, you’ll paint a clearer picture of every patient and enable safer and more personalized care.


1. “For Election Day Influence, Twitter Ruled Social Media” New York Times. Nov. 8, 2016.

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