Power to the People
Online management tools put patients in control of their health.
If you're reading this article, you know that you can find and do just about
anything on the Internet. Click here to order a pizza, buy a car, bid on
antique furniture, pay bills, check your cholesterol levels, review your biopsy
results, schedule your next appointment...
Whoa, back up there. Review your biopsy results? Check your cholesterol?
If you are a patient at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and
are enrolled in its free PatientSite, you can do exactly that. With a secure
Internet connection and a few clicks of the mouse, you can examine your
electronic medical record, schedule appointments, request prescription refills,
ask your doctor non-urgent questions about your health, and find high-quality
health-care information from doctor-approved web sites.
You can even find out who else has been looking at your records. And the
best part is that you don't need a high CNP (computer nerd potential) to use
About 14,000 patients and 150 doctors currently participate in the
PatientSite program, says Daniel Z. Sands, MD, MPH, assistant professor of
medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Clinical Systems Integration Architect
at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
"Some patients don't give a hoot about it, and some patients find it
very engaging and appreciate the fact that they can find out what's going on;
they don't have to wait for their doctor to finally send them a message or call
them to tell them that their test was normal or abnormal," Sands tells
Take 2 Aspirin and Email Me in the Morning?
Not everyone is eager to take his or her health care online. Some patients
and doctors see email and electronic medical records as barriers to personal
contact rather than a boon to doctor-patient relations; others are concerned
about privacy of medical information, Sands acknowledges. But he points out
that many innovations that we now take for granted in medicine were initially
rejected for many of the same reasons.
"A hundred years ago, doctors were worried about the telephone. They
said, 'Geez, how can we practice medicine over the telephone. We can't examine
patients, we can't look into their eyes and see what's really going inside
their heads, we're going to make mistakes, how can we possibly provide this
kind of care,' and there were doctors who didn't want to have a telephone in
"We think that's sort of quaint right now, but you can sort of
understand the way they feel. As we move from the office visit to the telephone
and then further to the electronic world, we lose information. We can't touch
the patient anymore, we can't look in their eyes anymore, we're getting just