There has been great debate over health care reform, but one aspect that most agree on is the need for electronic medical records (EMRs). Although some doctors are reluctant to adopt EMRs and are skeptical of their benefits, patients are generally interested in using technology to enhance their health care experience. I believe that medical practices increasingly need to have health information systems that not only facilitate care, but also enrich the patient experience.
In 2010, about 50% of medical practices nationwide had electronic medical records; only about 10% of practices used them to full functionality. At Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, the use of EMRs has been standard for the better part of a decade, which allows our providers in over 20 locations to easily access our patients’ records, improving communication and continuity of care.
Over five years ago, we introduced our secure online patient portal, MyHealth Online, which allows patients to portions of their medical record in a secure, password-protected environment. Today we have 94,000 patients who use MyHealth to view their upcoming and past appointments, renew prescriptions, view lab test results (within 24 hours!) and request appointments. You can even e-mail your medical team about non-urgent issues at your convenience, which may eliminate “phone tag” and reduce unnecessary office visits. In early 2011, the capabilities were expanded: MyHealth subscribers can now view their medical and surgical histories and see recommendations for preventive care screenings.
Using MyHealth, I can release test results to patients and include notes that clarify them. For example, along with your recent cholesterol results, I can send a link to basic nutritional information, your prior test results, and even suggest free smart phone applications to help track calories and exercise. MyHealth also allows me to send patients the phone number for a specialist I want them to see, or a link to a location at an office that may be closer to their work or home. It’s a great way to have a dialogue at a time convenient for both of us. I can easily follow up with patients after their visit with me, and have used MyHealth to confirm with patients that they are tolerating medications or responding to treatment.
My colleagues and I at Harvard Vanguard use our electronic medical record system in a number of ways that can increase communication, improve your care, and respect your time:
- We can quickly review prior test results and visits, so we’ll know what happened years ago when, for example, you had a similar abdominal pain in 2003.
- We use “e-prescribing” for medications, so your medication can be waiting for you at our pharmacy after a visit (rather than you waiting for it!)
- We can provide information on any of your medical conditions or diagnoses with just a few mouse clicks, and print it for you on a personalized After Visit Summary…and you can view a digital copy anytime you’d like through MyHealth Online.
- We can electronically schedule routine laboratory tests to be done before your appointment at any of our lab facilities, and the results will be available for you and your doctor to review at your appointment.
Health care is evolving rapidly, and both doctors and patients can now use technology to promote wellness and hopefully prevent more serious illness. In my daily practice, I incorporate technology as an educational tool to provide illustrative visual aids, and easily calculate ideal body weight or projected risk of cardiovascular disease or breast cancer. Many of my patients “self-diagnose” with tools like WebMD and the Healthwise Knowledge database which you can access through our public website at www.harvardvanguard.org. They are often pleasantly surprised by how helpful these tools are, and it often provides the basis for a great educational dialogue for us when I meet with them.
In addition to this blog, Harvard Vanguard has a social media presence on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, allowing virtual “meet and greet” visits with our physicians and easy access to breaking health news. I’m excited that at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and Atrius Health, we continue to incorporate technology to make your medical care easier and more efficient.
David Rubin, MD