Defining the meaning of “meaningful use”

Tags: texas family physician, meaningful use, technology, tradition, balkcom, president's letter

By I.L. Balkcom IV, M.D.
TAFP President

Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone, but I am attempting to practice on my laptop so I might understand how to have a “meaningful” encounter with my patient. I have made progress in technology in that I even sent our chief operating officer, Kathy McCarthy, an e-mail this year—a proud moment in my technological infancy. Now I find myself immersed in a small screen with small print and myriad options for the EHR. As Peanuts would say, “ARRRGHH!” as I erase an entire page by accident.

Now for those of you who are fortunate enough to know all things computer or young enough to have grown up with iPhones, laptops, and MP3 players, I heartily congratulate you. Some of us less technologically gifted are still learning how to turn on these infernal machines and not to treat them like coke machines—beat and kick the “heck” out of them. I wish so often they would say something so I could keep up my tirade. Oh, I forgot. They do talk to you now.

I confess to still trying to get comfortable visiting with patients on the computer. I do not enjoy diverting my eyes from my patient to a screen since inspections and observation are still part of a history and physical. The one blink or hesitation I miss may prevent serious discussion or counseling to occur. I am certain as time passes my computer skills will improve so that I might have “meaningful use” by 2014. Being somewhat of a country philosopher, I could submit the “Eulogy of the Doctor” as evidence of true medical use. The following was written by Robert Louis Stevenson.

“There are men and classes of men that stand above the common herd: The soldier, the sailor, the shepherd not infrequently; the artist rarely; rarelier still, the clergyman; the physician almost as a rule. He is the flower of our civilization and when that stage of man is done with, only to be marveled at in history he will be thought to have shared but little in the defects of the period and to have most notably exhibited the virtues of the race. Generosity he has, such as is possible only to those who practice an art and never to those who drive a trade; discretion, tested by a hundred secrets; tact, tried in a thousand embarrassments; and what are more important, herculean cheerfulness and courage. So it is that he brings air into the sick room and often enough, though not so often as he desires, brings healing.”

Now that’s meaningful use.

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