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Depending on who you talk to, the term e-Patient stands for "electronic patient" or "empowered patient" — or both.
The first of those definitions is in the same vein as "e-mail," "e-book," and other common things that have migrated from the physical world to the World Wide Web. The second definition has blossomed out of a growing movement among patients whose mission is to take a more active role in the management of their own health.
And really, both definitions are accurate for the same reason — the Internet. As health information has migrated from medical encyclopedias to cyberspace, a wealth of data regarding symptoms, treatments, risk factors, medications, and more is now at the fingertips of any patient curious enough to seek it out. As a result, patients are using this readily available information to become better advocates of their own health. Thus, empowered patients are taking a more engaged role in their personal health and in the way they receive healthcare. The doctor-patient relationship is becoming a collaborative effort. And many believe this is a very good thing for the entire healthcare system.
Many healthcare providers are offering a bank of online services — e-patient services — to foster this doctor-patient collaboration and give e-patients the proper tools to manage their healthcare. After registering and receiving a secure password, patients can access these services through a "patient portal," usually a Web page that acts a hub for the online tools. Services vary among vendors and healthcare providers, but generally, patient portals allow patients to do a number of the following things online:
Schedule/Change Appointments: Much like booking a flight or a hotel room, patients are allowed to view a calendar and see which days and time slots are available. Paperwork can be filled out online and ahead of time, making the visit much quicker and more convenient.
Manage Personal Profile: Patients are able to update and edit their personal profile information, which can include insurance and financial information.
Pay Bills: Patients can manage their account, pay bills, and review their billing and expense history.
Renew Prescriptions: Many providers offer an easy tool to track and renew prescriptions. This service often provides helpful information on what each medication is for and can communicate directly with pharmacies on the patient's behalf.
Health Reminders: Through this service, healthcare providers can use a calendar system to send patients important reminders about upcoming tests and appointments and can be personalized for the patient's age and medical history. This is especially useful for patients with certain conditions that require frequent tests and check-ups.
Access Lab and Test Results: Instead of scheduling another in-office appointment to review test results, patients can view them online and discuss them with their doctor, as needed, via the phone. The patient portal keeps a timeline of these results for the patient (and doctors) to review at anytime.
Review Medical History: The personal health record (also called electronic health record in certain instances) is a historical documentation of the total health of a patient – a complete medical history. The information gathered and managed via these e-patient services become a part of a patient's personal health record, and patients can access and manage this record via the patient portal. That information can be helpful if a patient has multiple specialists, more than one doctor, or ever has to change doctors.
Communicate with Doctors: Through secure patient messaging (essentially secure e-mail), patients can ask their doctor questions and gain helpful information without having to schedule an in-office appointment.
Visit the Doctor Online: Although this service is not as common as the others, there are some providers that offer the ability to visit the doctor through video consultation. Mostly utilized for addressing minor concerns, such as a cold or a follow-up appointment, the virtual doctor visit has been getting good reviews from both doctors and patients as a way to save time, resources, and money on both ends.
Convenience and cost savings are the obvious benefits of these services. Being able to ask a doctor a question without scheduling appointment (which is how it usually happens) saves the patient and the doctor time. Not having to pay for an appointment saves the patient and the insurance company money and eases some of the burden on the system. The same benefits apply to renewing prescriptions, filling out paperwork before a visit, and making appointments online. These all save time for the patient and provider and also lower administrative costs for the provider.
Arguably the most important benefit of the patient portal and e-patient services is that they can lead to better overall care for patients and better overall health for a population. The ability to track and accumulate the medical history of a patient in one robust record and the ability to share that information among a team of caregivers in different locations and fields of medicine should lead to fewer errors, better patient care, and a more efficient healthcare system.
Written by: Ryan Wallace
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