Getting sick can seem like a major road block for many Americans. A 2009 (pre-Affordable Care Act) report by the Commonwealth Fund found that 57 percent of Americans can’t afford to see ahealthcareprofessional, while 47 percent said it was impossible to find coverage. This is why AL.com, an online news network in Alabama, asked two of the state’s finest healthcare professionals to make themselves available for an online discussion in January about flu symptoms and the flu vaccine. Dr. Turner Overton is part of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and is undertaking a flu vaccine study. He teamed up with Dr. Mary McIntyre of the Alabama Department of Public Health.
They fielded questions like, “what should you do if you already have the flu?” or “what type of cleaning products are best at eliminating flu germs?” People in the healthcare industry are using forums like this for frequently to better serve their patients and give them the care they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Stacy Collett, of BizTechMagazine.com, said patients are looking for easy access to healthcareinformation. This had prompted many organizations to create portals where patients can access their personal health information and public information from electronic health records (EHRs). Patients who use these online portals can schedule appointments, check their test results online, and receive support live via chat from doctors and nurses.
HELPING HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS
Patient Portals provide value not just to patients, but to doctors and nurses as well. Dr. David Lee Scher, founder of DLS Healthcare Consulting LLC, said messaging via a patient portal allows physicians to be more productive. Doctors can send reminders for appointments and fill prescriptions within these communication portals. Patients can receive test results immediately, in lieu of playing phone tag. The messaging feature also increases patient satisfaction with their healthcare providers, which in many cases leads to increases in patient loyalty and profitability. These portals can even be used to give last-minute information to patients, such as pre-surgery or post-surgery instructions.
CONVENIENCE MEETS CONFIDENTIALITY
To maintain patient satisfaction, portal developers must make sure that the site, and all of it’s information, is completely confidential and compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. Craig Mathias, principal at Farpoint Group— an advisory firm that specializes in wireless technologies – told BizTech magazine that developers need to take their adherence to HIPAA regulations one step further by utilizing code encryption to secure patient files. This could even track which files are being accessed and by whom. HIPAA requirements extend to the offline world as well, leaving many providers searching for a trusted source to navigate regulatory waters.
Patient portals like MyHealth Manager, which went live in 2007, have opened the door for patients andhealthcare professionals alike to connect with each other in a safe and secure online environment. With these continued shifts in the healthcare industry, healthcare providers are continuing to put more priority on network security and stability. Due to so much of patient care moving into the technical realm, it is more important than ever to keep critical systems operating. The future in digital medicine and online healthcare is encouraging; proving that technology and medicine do work well together.
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