Role of Computers

Most patients can access the Internet. Unfortunately, this easy access to information is a double-edged sword. Many sites provide opinion, hearsay, and outright falsehoods with the same authoritative style as peer-reviewed evidence from published medical research. Patients are poorly equipped to tell the difference.

As more and more of their patients go online, physicians should keep abreast of some of the more reliable web resources so that they can make useful recommendations to patients and respond to misinformation that patients may encounter. An extremely useful resource is familydoctor.org, produced by AAFP. Some group practices and even solo physicians have established their own websites that provide information to patients and links to other sites that may be useful.

Some computer-based electronic health record (EHR) systems have designed patient education as an integral part of the software. For example, the provider can be reminded to give recommended preventive health habit counseling based on the patient's age, gender, risk factors, and past documentation of counseling. Drawings, diagrams, pictures, graphic displays of growth parameters or laboratory data, and other visual aids can be called up on the computer screen to use in patient teaching in the examination room. A list of available educational materials can be automatically generated for the provider based on the reason for the visit, medications, orders, or diagnoses; the system can print these on demand and track which materials are given to the patient.

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