Let’s Make Medical Technology Real for the iPatient/Consumer

I read a great article about the use of technology by hospitals and how it can help consumers. http://careandcost.com/2012/03/07/technology-aetna-itriage-and-the-future-of-medicine/

I have been interested in this area since 1995 when I was working in a rural health clinic in New Mexico.  At that time, the University of New Mexico was developing a video hook up system for specialists to do off site consults. The state was paying for special lines to go in.  Since most of New Mexico is rural and patients have to travel long distances to see specialists, this was a revolutionary option. I left in 1997 and don’t remember the system being operational.

Since that time, I have been an ardent supporter of medical technology to enhance consumer education, communication with medical teams/ hospitals and prevention.  In my current work as an advocate, I have many clients who are home bound.  Some rely on their computers to keep them from feeling totally isolated, as well as medically knowledgeable.  Some  technology saves life like Lifeline and  medication reminders.

What hasn’t kept up for most of my clients are  physician communications, at home educational tools and off site follow ups.  Patient records are mostly limited to lab and radiology results, prescription refills and scheduling.  Actual notes are not available.  Real time interaction with someone at an office is also not available.

Recently, I was having a side effect from a new medication and I was trying to reach my doctor.  I sent two emails and called twice.  No one returned my email or calls and I was forced to call the on call MD after hours.  The technology was useless to me.  I told my doctor on the next visit and she shrugged her shoulders.

I use my patient portal to get instant lab results.  My doctor told me she was surprised how fast I picked up the information as she gets an email when I have read the results.  To me this is what the technology is about :being in real time and not having to wait for another person to give me the information.  The rational in the past has been that the doctor has to interrupt the information.   Many consumers are educated on what lab results mean and what questions to ask.

Several years ago, a patient of mine was waiting for PET scan results.  I had been instrumental in getting the PET scan scheduled and approved by the insurance.  For some reason, I was sent a copy of the result which showed a potential cancer. My client was well aware the results probably would reveal a cancer.   I felt it was the responsibility of the MD to tell my client.  Three days past, and my client had been asking me for the results.  I finally wrote a gentle note to the MD requesting he contact the patient.  And I will never forget the scathing phone call I received from him, and his thoughtless comments on how he did things his way, in his time.

Would on line access been the right way to find out results? In this case probably no, but the question arises, who owns this information, the consumer or the medical facility?  What is the best way to deliver the information with the technology available?

The article clearly points the skepticism by  the medical community of using the available revolutionary technologies for patient care, education and triage.  Most astounding is medical communities are using systems that are not designed to talk to other systems.  What this means for the consumer is transfer of information from hospital, provider and labs is not possible limiting medical records access.  It is great that medical communities are invested in social media but let’s take it one step further and invest in real time technology that benefits consumers and reduces health care costs.