Neil Osterweil, a regular contributor to WebMD since 1998, is an award-winning writer and co-owner of Osterweil & Baron Communications, a medical writing and editing firm based in metropolitan Boston. He has written extensively on the clinical, scientific, financial, sociological, and organizational aspects of medicine for both corporate and not-for-profit clients, including international print media and television. He covers a wide range of medical subjects, from basic science at the molecular level to the most advanced clinical applications, translating complex subjects into informative, readable prose for audiences with widely varying degrees of medical and scientific knowledge. He was awarded a BA from Brandeis University in 1978.
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...
When Steven O'Shea, 42, a Michigan landscaper, fell out of a tree, his chainsaw cut halfway through his forearm. The uninsured father of four received a $39,000 bill from the plastic surgeon who operated on him. Though grateful for the care, O'Shea says, "I couldn't believe it. How was I going to pay a $39,000 bill?"
Christopher McCaughna, 50, of Seminole, Fla., lost his brother, Eric, at age 43 after a five-day hospitalization for a diabetic coma. Also uninsured, Eric left behind a $75,000 hospital...
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 the system.
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 WebMD.
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 their practice.