Hospital Marketers Benefit From Understanding Doctors

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Atul Gawande, author of “The Checklist Manifesto,” recently penned an article for The New Yorker titled “Why Doctors Hate Their Computers.” The article offers great insights into the pressures doctors face as they deal with complicated medical software that often negatively affects the quality and duration of their time spent with patients.

As marketers working to reach women before they need care, we have the luxury of not being directly involved in the daily frustrations and struggles of providing quality care to patients in need. But if we’re advertising the services of the doctors in our health system, it’s a good idea to ensure we understand what impedes doctors’ ability to do the best work they can and what enhances that ability — and then to work toward solutions that do the latter.

The following is a summation of Gawande’s main points, followed by some thoughts about how hospital marketers can use this information to better connect with women.

Points of note

  • The time doctors get to spend directly with patients has been negatively affected by the amount of time they’re required to spend dealing with medical software.
  • Even while they’re seeing patients, doctors have to spend much of the appointment time focused on a screen.

Doctor burnout

  • Many doctors now have to extend their workday or take their laptops home in order finish all the work they’re required to do in the software.
  • Doctor burnout rates are ballooning; female doctors are disproportionately affected.
  • There’s a direct link between how much time a doctor or clinician has to spend with a screen and their score on a burnout inventory.

Software problems

  • Adopting new medical software is enormously expensive for systems — not just because of the software cost, but because of the time it takes to onboard all staff.
  • The way the systems are built is flawed because multiple partners have conflicting stakes and needs.
  • Since medical records for each patient can be accessed and modified by different physicians and clinical staff, lists of patient issues are often long, deficient and redundant, making them very difficult to use.
  • The systems produce far too many alerts about potential conditions or problems a patient might have, so the alerts become irrelevant and doctors ignore them.
  • As software systems get larger and include more requirements, they’re more prone to failure, human error and bloat, which causes politicization around new builds. People become dependent on the capabilities that do work, but crushed by the required functions that don’t.
  • Tasks that used to be completed by admin staff now have to be completed by doctors, and the admins don’t have the option to help them because they are trained on a different version of the system.
  • Patients are forced to choose between waiting for a doctor to find the information in a computer that will give them an answer, or getting the human interaction they want from an office visit.


  • Patients are actually benefiting in some ways.
    • Once all staff is onboarded to a new software system, patient deaths tend to drop.
    • Populations who are less able to express their needs, or who have not had continuity of care, now have all their info in one place for emergency medical personnel to access.
  • While the software leaves less room for doctors to improvise, it also standardizes processes. This prevents doctors from deviating from standard best practices the system is set up to enforce.

How health systems and hospitals are adapting

  • A quickly growing segment of healthcare employment is the medical scribe: a person whose job is to deal with the software while in the room with the doctor so the doctor can focus on the patient.
    • This type of job doesn’t pay much, so there’s high turnover and frequent errors.
  • Alternately, doctors can record the visit, and then a remote scribe uses the recording to log the data into the system.
    • If these remote scribes are in places like India, more qualified individuals, such as fully certified doctors, can be hired inexpensively.
    • These scribes can also be trained to maximize billing opportunities, which helps the hospital or health system bring in more revenue.
  • It’s possible that in the future, AI could replace in-person and/or virtual scribes.
  • Some people who are required to use the systems are modifying them to suit their specific needs.

How can marketers use all this information? A common frustration women have when they’re receiving medical care is that the doctor spends too much time looking at a screen during the appointment. Marketers can take some of the burden off doctors by using marketing channels to communicate the reasons doctors do this: Ultimately, it’s to create better patient outcomes. Messaging about how your system is working to improve care for patients via technology can help women understand that some time spent on a computer during an appointment is unavoidable, but it’s not necessarily a negative.

The article paints a sobering picture of how technology is often hindering doctors instead of helping them in their mission to deliver high-quality patient care, but offers hope for the future that the situation will improve — perhaps just via different avenues than we expect.

Kathy Selker
I’m Kathy Selker. My work as managing director of Stratos and previously as CEO of Northlich, has taught me a great deal about how hospitals and health systems can best connect with women to make the most positive impact in their lives.
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