Every doctor has been there. Standing next to a patient, discussing their condition, when suddenly you realize that they have no idea what you are talking about. You take out your pen, scribble a few notes on a piece of paper, and try to help your patient visualize the information you are trying to convey. In return you may get a quick nod of understanding or rather a confused look that begs you to explain one more time what is going on. It’s a regular occurrence in the life of a primary care physician, but could that be changing?
Health IT has exploded throughout the medical world the last few years. Once, terms like electronic health records and patient portals sparked a level of curiosity. Now, EHRs are part of our vernacular. Physicians have jumped on the automation bandwagon to increase efficiency in managing their practices and to encourage patient engagement. While going electronic was once considered a risk, it is now considered the norm for many independent physician practices. Doctors, however, aren’t the only ones benefiting from the ease of accessing health information at the touch of a finger.
We are seeing a significant rise in the number of patients that are now taking matters of their health into their own hands. There is an entirely new breed of patients – referred to as ePatients – taking an active role in their health care management by forming and connecting to online networks that allow them to share information about health and disease management. They are reducing the amount of time spent in the waiting room by learning more about their conditions from one another, and some even boast of becoming micro-experts by collecting a wealth of information about a particular procedure that they have had. These ePatients are a good example of people who are using the powerful health care tools on the Internet for better access to answers and information in our modern world.
There is a tremendous power in numbers, but patients aren’t going to be able to effectively manage their care by talking solely with each other. It is vital to each patient’s successful care to be engaged with his or her own private physician. Patient portals like the one that Hello Health offers facilitate this patient – physician connection. The Hello Health portal even includes easy-to-navigate online forums, IM, and video chat. In this way, the ease of communication prevalent within the online community can be easily transferred to the patient-doctor relationship. In an age where 80 percent of Internet users search the World Wide Web for health-related information, it only makes sense that the web should be a viable option for patients to communicate with their primary care physicians.
Sean Ahrens, leader of the ePatient movement, recently made the bold statement that, “In 10 years, the idea of going down to your doctor’s office for a visit is going to feel as foreign as going to the video store to get a VHS tape.” An interesting theory, but not quite realistic. No online support group will ever take the place of an office visit with a trained medical professional, nor should it. Wait times and unnecessary appointments? Now those, thanks to portal technology, will soon be a problem of a past.