While many in the technology and business communities think of digital health technologies as emerging or yet to be adopted, there are tools available now that patients need to not only know about, but should ask their physicians about.
1. Do you have electronic health records? The answer to this will likely be obvious as the physician answers the question while staring at his PC or tablet (an EHR- related behavior, a topic for another post). If this is a first visit to a new physician and the answer is ‘”No”, associated with a snarky comment or is even politely negative, head for the hills. This implies that there is not enough interest in investing in technology that the rest of the working world has adopted. If the reply is motivated by finances, then the investment in your future is something not valued. If the answer is yes, ask if the EHR connects to your other doctors and the local hospital you might go to.
2. Do you have patient portals? Patient portals are condensed versions of your EHR available directly to you, either online via a computer or possibly your smart phone. Patient portals allow you to check the accuracy of medications you are presently taking, diagnoses, and medical history. The HITECH Act portion of the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’) mandates that soon a small percentage of your physician’s EHR charts need to have patient portals. The more patients a physician has patient portals for, the more the practice cares about you getting information. Your insurance company, pharmacy or hospital might have patient portals as well. Ask.
3. Do you recommend any health or medical apps to patients? While there are over 13,000 health, fitness and medical apps in existence, your doctor may have some favorites based on other patient recommendations or personal experience. Ask if you can make an appointment or communicate online. While one may find these apps in a multitude of places, Happtique is a company which has categorized health, fitness, and medical apps in an easy to find manner according to user or health category. Your physician might look at you strangely when you ask this today but I doubt you would get the same response in a couple of years.
4. Do you recommend genetic testing? There now are companies which will determine your entire genome (genetic or DNA makeup). While this is still relatively expensive and not covered by insurance, there are instances where genetic testing is recommended and reimbursed. If your family has inherited disorders of certain heart diseases or cancers for example, you might be at significant risk and discovering if you are might result in recommending preventive measures.
5. Do you recommend specific reliable and informative Internet websites for me? Many physicians see the Internet as an adversary because patients research symptoms and diseases on their own and present to the doctor with misinformation from unreliable sites. The Internet can be both friend to patient and physician if utilized as a tool and not in a vacuum or without guidance. If a physician has a set of reliable recommended websites for you to go to for your interests or conditions, it means that you are seen as a partner in your own healthcare and that technology is important in that partnership.
I realize that this post discusses patients and their physicians. This is because some of the issues involved cover practice management in addition to patient management. There are other healthcare providers involved in patient management and those questions related to such should be directed to those providers as well. While this is not a complete guide to digital health technology, it touches on those available today and not necessarily waiting for the whole industry to mature before having an impact on individuals.