Patients are frustrated. They feel trapped and unable to access their own medical health information and imaging when needed. Even when data is available, patients still cite an inability to easily reach physicians for questions and care. Particularly, for patients dealing with complex conditions like chronic diseases, cancer, or a serious disability, coordinated care networks can become a frustrating nightmare.
The Advisory Board, an expert healthcare consulting group, noted that they often receive calls from medical practices asking for a solution that will allow patients to reach the right physician at the right place, time, and without barriers. So, what’s hampering this process? They broke it down into 3 key factors.
This refers to the patient’s ability to get care. An older patient may struggle with making an appointment within a patient portal. Or, in rural communities, driving to seek care from a specialty physician could take hours.
Although patients frequently request an appointment with their primary care physician, sometimes another physician may be the better choice or more efficient appointment. For example, you make an appointment with you primary physician who then directs you to a gastrointenologist that takes an additional 3 weeks to see. What if based on your symptoms and history you were recommended to a gastro right away? How can we direct patients to the appropriate and recommended caregiver even before they step in the door?
From emergency rooms, to urgent care centers, to private practices that offer weekend hours, where and when should a patient turn to these different locations?
These barriers require teamwork, one that most come from healthcare providers and technology vendors alike. Healthcare is far behind other industries in terms of its customer service. It’s much easier to order a sweater online than for a cancer patient to reach their oncologist and that’s a major problem.
We know that patients have become much more accepting of technology in the medical world and frequently use it to their advantage. A study by Christoph I. Lee, MD, MSHS, department of radiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Wash., and colleagues studied the actions of more than 61,000 patients. All patients were registered to the University of Washington health system in 2014 and were 18 years of age or older. More than 51 percent of all patients with access to an online radiology report viewed it online. Although there were some differences among socioeconomic groups and genders (women used patient portals more than men), an overall interest in taking charge of health data was clearly demonstrated.
As patients gain access to imaging and reporting, radiologists my find themselves surprised to be a direct point of contact for questions. According to Dr. Lee, some academic centers and private practices are already offering consults for cases allowing patients to review imaging with a radiologist directly.
“Increased interaction with patients gives radiologists the opportunity to highlight our value in the patient care continuum,” Lee told AuntMinnie.com. “And after all, we’ve all gone through medical school and residency. We’re physicians first, and radiologists second.”
Radiologists and physicians can provide easier access to their care through telemedicine. Telemedicine has already been leading the way as a source of accessible care in rural communities. For example, patients can wear devices such as blood pressure and glucose monitors that can alert physicians to dangerous conditions. Being able to monitor such conditions at home can save patients wasted time traveling to routine doctor appointments and avoid clogging local emergency rooms. Although such monitoring still requires the occasional in-person visit, Skype sessions and conferencing can also allow patients to speak to physicians from a distance. Particularly, virtual meetings have become popular in the area of tele-psychiatry.
Together, technology and health providers can provide patients with the access they need.