Delivering high-quality health care is not just a matter of offering the latest therapies and most advanced medical technology. Just as important is the role of communication between patients and their providers. Among its many benefits, effective patient-provider communication promotes better health care quality and safety, patient compliance, comprehension of test results, management of chronic illnesses, and disease prevention.
It was with the understanding that good patient-provider communication is key that Mercy Health introduced their electronic health record in 2011. Epic Systems has a patient portal known as MyChart. It is a secure online portal that allows Mercy Health patients to (among other services) access their health records, view test results and summaries of their visits, schedule or cancel appointments, refill prescriptions, ask their provider questions via email messaging, and generally take a more active role in their own health. Mercy Health was the first health system in our area to offer MyChart.
Patients who are understandably concerned about the security of their electronic medical records can rest assured that MyChart is encrypted and, in fact, even more secure than online banking.
In describing the advantages of MyChart, Robert Heizelman, MD, of Mercy Health Perrysburg Family Medicine and Pediatrics, offers the example of test results. “If one of my patients has bloodwork, a chest x-ray, or other testing performed at a Mercy Health facility, the results will be entered into his or her electronic medical record and I can review the test results and provide feedback. For instance, if a diabetic patient has hemoglobin A1C testing done, I can look at the number and determine right away how well his or her blood sugar is being controlled. Then I can say, ‘Hey, you’re doing great. Keep doing what you’re doing’ or ‘Your results have worsened. Please schedule a follow-up appointment,’” he states.
Dr. Heizelman further explains that the ability to comment directly on test results goes a long way toward eliminating patient confusion or uncertainty, noting that in some cases test results can appear abnormal to the patient but are actually not a cause for concern from the doctor’s standpoint. Interpreting these results for the patient in MyChart can prevent misconceptions and unnecessary worry. “Also patients who monitor their blood pressure or other health data at home can record this information in MyChart so I can get a better idea of their average value over the course of several weeks,” he says.
Patients enrolled in MyChart can access their electronic health record anywhere at any time via computer or mobile app. In the event that a medical problem arises while they’re traveling, for example, they’ll have the ability to provide their health history, lab values, medication list, etc. to clinicians at the emergency room or urgent care, allowing them to make well-informed treatment decisions. “Health information doesn’t belong to any particular health system. It belongs to the patient. Doctors have the opportunity to make the best possible care decisions for patients when they have timely access to all that data,” says Dr. Heizelman.
Another exciting feature of MyChart is the E-Visit option for patients with certain non-emergent conditions who, for one reason or another, are unable to attend an office visit. Upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, back pain, headache, and rash are just a sampling of conditions appropriate for E-Visits. Patients using this service simply go to MyChart, answer a series of questions, and provide a history of their illness. The provider then evaluates all this information to arrive at a tentative diagnosis and determine the appropriate course of treatment for the patient.
To provide an example of the type of patient who would benefit from the E-Visit service, Dr. Heizelman describes a chronic sinusitis sufferer who lives in Fremont, Ohio. “This patient gets two or three bacterial sinus infections per year—not your garden-variety cold, which is viral—and is usually treated successfully with a course of antibiotics. By doing E-Visits instead of driving to Perrysburg to see me in person, he saves about two hours of travel time and another hour for the office visit,” he says. E-Visits not only save time, but they’re also very cost-effective. More and more insurances are beginning to cover this type of service and, if for some reason the service is not covered by insurance, the out-of-pocket cost is approximately $35.00.
Perhaps the most convenient aspect of MyChart is the ability for patients to send non-urgent questions to their provider via secure email. During relatively brief office visits, it’s all too easy for patients to forget concerns they may have intended to bring up with their doctor, but this feature ensures those questions don’t go unanswered. ❦