Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Health Care - from Your Tablet or Smart Phone?

What do you do if you have a quick question you want to ask your doctor or a nurse? Do you have access to someone? Can you call your doctor's office for an answer? What if you're not feeling well, but you don't know if it's something that should be looked at or if you'll be better if you get a good night's sleep? The answer might soon be in your pocket, purse, or backpack if you have a tablet or smart phone.

Today's world is full of instant communication. Having a phone in hand all the time makes phone calls or texts a quick thing to do, rather than when you used to have to wait until you got home, to the office, or even if you found a pay phone. The Internet has added to this "instant-ness" by providing you with information as fast as you can type your search request. So, can our health care fall into this type of category?

According to an article written by HealthDay News, which undertook a survey on how people might want to use their technology for their health care, "one-third of respondents who are online said they were "very" or "extremely" interested in using smartphones or tablets to ask their doctors questions, make appointments or get medical test results."

For the past two years, I have been able to make appointments with two of my doctors online and I do like that convenience very much. The convenience of making appointments online is considerable and this was reinforced a few weeks ago when I had to make an appointment with another doctor the "old-fashioned" way, by phone. It took a few calls before I could finally get through to someone. But, once I did, the receptionist was very helpful and apologetic.

With the online booking system my other doctors use, you can make your appointment and if it's not soon enough for your liking, you can check daily for cancellations and grab one if an opening comes up. The drawback to the system, however, is these doctors have cut back on their receptionists or their hours and if you need to call to ask a question (no email), it's very, very, VERY difficult to get through. You have to call many times, different times of the day to finally speak to someone because their system doesn't take voicemail.

While being able to email your doctor to ask questions may be appealing to many people, we have to take into consideration practicalities. One email from you might not take much time to answer, but if your doctor receives 30 emails in a day from patients, some with complex questions, when is she going to have time to respond when she is supposed to be seeing patients? And, of course, we all know how email piles up when you're not in the office, so if your doctor is off for a day or two, is working in a clinic or hospital for a day, or is just at home overnight - that 30 emails can easily balloon to a much higher number. This system may not be sustainable.

On the other hand, a system that allows doctors' offices to send normal test results straight to a patient via text or email could save considerable time and stress on behalf of the patients who may be worrying about what the tests will show. Many doctors will say to patients "We'll call if the tests show anything out of the ordinary," meaning they won't call if things are normal. But that leaves people hanging. Did the doctor not call because the tests were normal or did he not call because the results haven't come in? Or did he not call because the tests did come in and he did mean to call, but something happened and the call never happened?

So, what do you think? Can you get hold of your doctor or healthcare professional whenever you need? Would you like to be able to email your doctor? But how would it be possible for the doctors to take on this extra task in their already busy day?

1 comment:

bookworm said...

I live in upstate New York. My primary care doctor's phone is answered by a machine. "Press 1 for this, 2 for that" and you usually have to leave a message. If you want test results you must leave a message with your name and the test and "someone will call you back within 24 hours". If you are sick they tell you to go to the walk in. The walk in (part of the same hospital system, by the way) doesn't have your medical records. I would welcome a smartphone app. Getting any kind of primary care here is such a hassle.