All the talk about information technology in health care was just an abstraction to me until it actually came to my town. I read about all the money the federal government was spending to spur the development of electronic medical records, but most of my records were still stored in those vast walls of color coded folders. Then my medical group introduced a new IT system that allows patients to do a lot of fantastic things online for FREE!
I used to hate calling for an appointment, because you had to deal with the phone menu options then wait for someone to answer, who would usually put you on hold. To me, the most important person in a medical office is that person at the front desk, but you wouldn't know it by what they are paid (not very much) or trained (not very much). The innovation of being able to go online and ask for an appointment directly was one I knew I would like.
I had heard about emailing your doctor, but initially it cost $60 a year, and I just didn't think I would use it that much. After a few months, though, the medical group made all online services free, including emails.
The first time I emailed my doctor I was careful to make the message short and to the point. I was worried that I would 'bother' the doctor with my questions. I thought I probably had a urinary tract infection (UTI) and I told her my symptoms. To my surprise, I received an answer a few hours later with an electronic order to have a urine test. When I arrived at the lab, they had my information and I waited about five minutes. By the time I got home several hours later, the results of my test were online, including an email from my doctor that I did indeed have a UTI and she had ordered a prescription that was already at my pharmacy.
By now I was really getting into this online stuff. I started making appointments online, asking for prescription refills online, checking out my test results and getting information about what the results meant. All the little annoyances and barriers that keep you from taking care of business regarding your health were being removed, and fast! I had been dragging my feet on my annual mammogram, but after an email consult with my doctor (Do I really have to have one this year? What is the evidence that I need one?), I made my appointment.
When I go see my doctor, she sits on a stool with a portable computer in front of her, where she can see all my records at a glance. As I tell her my problems, she enters them in my record, and by the time I leave, I have a printout of any instructions or medications I need to follow.
This is the way medical care should work. The systems support you, the patient, not just the physicians and the administrators. When you are not feeling well, you get fast results and pretty immediate attention. True, you need a computer or access to one, but you can do the same stuff on a smart phone too. Privacy problems? Not as far as I can tell. I have my own log-in and password. Could some of my medical information be shared inappropriately? Maybe. But because I am on Medicare, I can't have my insurance taken away from me because some insurer finds out I have a pre-existing condition, so I basically don't care.
I have no idea how many U.S. medical practices provide this type of service to their patients. If I were you, though, I would certainly ask: When will I have access to my medical records online? When can I email my doctor? When will this come to my town?