Thursday, July 11, 2013

Talk to your doctor online

Talking To Your Doctor’s Office Online...The Future Could Be Now

You can look up the balance of your checking or savings account online 24 hours per day 7 days per week. You can pay bills online. You can even order food and make reservations from a computer or smartphone. Why can’t you talk to your doctor’s office? Well, the answer is you can. Well, not all doctors offices. But, a growing number of physicians and physician offices are making themselves available to their patients online. This is done through what is called a Patient Portal. The portal is a password protected site designed to protect a patient’s health information from anyone seeing it other than authorized people. Usually a relationship with the doctors office must be established face to face before an online relationship can be connected as well. Patients still need to see their doctors periodically to maintain this relationship, but a lot of ordinary coordination of care and communication can take place between those visits.
I was intrigued by online medicine a  long time ago from several articles I had read in medical journals and finally committed to it after attending a conference where a 4 physician practice from South Carolina was using one successfully and really found it useful. I came back to my practice and did some research and contacted a pretty well established company to try.  We use a system from McKesson called and we’ve been using it for nearly 10 years. Not only do we message with our patients, but we also refill their medications so they don’t run out before their next appointment. We order  lab work prior to office visits so that the visit is more meaningful. We set up sleep studies or order x-rays and can refer people to specialists to expedite care. We even do webVisits, for patients who are unable to come in and have routine medical problems. This keeps our Emergency Department visit rate down and keeps me connected to our my own  patients.
I do lament that very few physicians choose to connect to each other via portals, or we could actually talk to each other about patient care as well. I’ve been asked, how do I have the time to message with patients and why would I want to do that. The answer is pretty simple, I don’t waste time, I save time. I’ve available to my patients even when I’m out of town on vacation, so I can take care of a lot of little things so that when I come home I’m not burried in messages. I can even do online webVisits when I’m not around for routine medical issues like poison ivy, sinus infections, diaper rash, influenza.  We manage well over 300 messages per month online. That means staff are not picking up a phone over 300 times per month! We schedule dozens of appointments that because people don’t wait on hold. If people do call the office, the wait time is quite a bit less. Best of all, our patient satisfaction surveys have been very positive about this system of care.
Your doctors office may already have this ability and you just have not been connected yet. Get connected.  Maybe they’ve thought about it but have not committed to it yet. Push them. Better health care starts with better communication. Let’s make a change.

Arthur J. Ronan, D.O. is a board certified family physician at Lake Lansing Family Practice in Lansing, MI