E-mail Access to my PCP: A Gen-Xer's Lament

Matt Henry, for HealthLeaders Media , April 8, 2008

First I must confess that I’m a Gen-X’er through and through (I can hardly remember life without the Internet). I have grown up with it and through the years it has metastasized into every fiber of my being. Like anyone else, I have to ‘unplug’ every now and then but for the most part I have only positive things to say about it.

Not long ago, I went to Africa to tackle Mt. Kilimanjaro. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this trip is how it was planned--yep you guessed it--on the Internet. Although I live in Arkansas, I was joining up with a team out of Kentucky. You name it and we accomplished it online. We researched the route, booked our guide (who lives in Africa), booked hotels and plane tickets, paid for the trip, communicated with our ground transportation there, researched and bought gear, communicated responsibilities, and organized a visit with local friends. In short order, we accomplished virtually everything online. We didn’t have to worry about catching people on the phone. . .the asynchronous aspect of online communication was perfect for our on-the-go lifestyles.

As I was cruising at 39,000 feet crossing the ocean, I realized I forgot one important question--the medication Diamox. Facing the prospect of a climb to 19,340 feet (Kili’s summit), I had been on the fence of using Diamox to help combat potential altitude sickness. I simply forgot to make the decision before I left. No problem. I figured I still had plenty of time. Once I hit the ground in Amsterdam, I would send an e-mail to my primary care physician and get his response once I hit African soil. That would give me two days in Africa to track down some Diamox if he felt it was the right move for me. It was a great plan...except for one thing. My PCP is not accessible through e-mail. The only way to contact him is the phone and that is typically an exercise in futility even when we are on the same continent.

My Kilimanjaro trip gave me plenty of time to ponder this question: Why does my PCP seem to be so slow in adopting email and other forms of information technology? Although I’m a patient, it seems to me my physician and his nurses would be attracted to the asynchronous aspect of the secure e-mail. It could give him the ability to take care of simple, non-emergent questions on his time and in turn give great service to me, his patient. He would be able to provide me links to quality materials that can help give me the confidence to make good decisions. It could also serve to help me make more efficient use of clinic time--only going to see him when I truly need to be there (that could save me some co-pays). To take it a step further, I can only imagine having the ability to go online and request prescription refills, make appointments, download forms prior to a visit, review follow-materials, get lab results, and communicate with office staff. As a patient I would be very attracted to a physician office with such abilities and I imagine it would help his clinic be significantly more efficient. With services like these, I believe my PCP could easily attract new patients and perhaps a better set of patients.

Implementing information technology into an everyday medical practice obviously has its challenges. I certainly don’t pretend to have answers to all those hurdles. I’m just a lone consumer with one desire--good service. As time goes on, I will expect my PCP to move forward with the right approach. In my opinion one small technological step for my PCP would be a giant leap in service for his patients. Remember, I’m an aging Gen-X’er . I expect speedy, convenient answers to everything (thanks Google) and now I’m starting to have health questions. Good thing I didn’t need Diamox.

Matt Henry is director of client relations at eDocAmerica. He may be reached at mhenry@edocamerica.com.


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