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Take Health Care Information Access Out of the Dark Age and Into the Web Age

Posted Sep 12 2008 1:52pm

Do you make travel plans online? How about shifting money from 1 fund to another? Or, booking tickets for Bonnie Raitt? But, if you want to find out the results of your last lab test, you often have to hang on the phone for minutes, then be transferred to the nurse practitioner, then leave a message and wait until he/she gets back to you.

Would you like to be able to take more control of your health care via a virtual coach? A Healthwise whitepaper, e-Coaching for Boomer Health: How Information Therapy Tools Can Give Boomers the Personalized and Efficient Health Care Experience They Want and Need by Molly Mettler, MSW, and Donald W. Kemper, MPH, tells us how this might work.

78% of Boomers use Web-based tools to find out about health care information already. They search for "tingling in the hands," or "rapid heartbeat" or any number of symptoms and try to figure out what's the best antidote for what they're experiencing, rather than taking the time to go to their doctor. Wouldn't it be wise for the health care industry to design systems so that consumers could manage their health conditions more readily from the Web?

Mettler and Kemper point to 3 self-care rules: 1) Do as much as you can for yourself, 2) Ask for the care you need, and 3) Say "no" to the care you don't need.

My PCP's office allows me to make or cancel appointments, get referrals, or request prescription refills online. That's more than my husband's PCP does (no Web access!). But, if I have a quick question that probably does not require a visit, or even a call from a health professional, I cannot get that online.

Mettler and Kemper give 3 examples of common conditions, asthma, back pain, and diabetes, where expensive and scary crises could be avoided if virtual health care were available. They advocate for you, as the consumer, to ask for the care you need by increasing your sense of competency to make decisions. If you have asthma, what kinds and how much controller medication do you need? If you're diabetic, how well are you keeping your blood sugar in the target range?

Since our health care system cannot afford to give us each a personal health care coach, we can...and do have the get the information we need from the Web. Using virtual methods, we can get that info 24/7.

Here's some methods that are in the works. Since many health care systems are trying to get the electronic medical record in place, when we access our PCPs website, our questions can be coordinated with our record to personalize the response.

Information therapy (Ix) can prescribe information to help us make better health care decisions.These can be triggered after every health care visit, after a prescription for medication or a test is made, or any treatment. You know how confusing it can sometimes be after getting recommendations from your practitioner...what did she say? How many times? Under what circumstances? Wouldn't it be comforting to be able to go online and get to your personal profile at your PCPs office, and know that the answers you need will be right there with easy access?

We can get reminders for preventive services online. We can monitor our chronic conditions. With virtual coaching (which is in the early stages of design), we can even have interactive conversations with a health care coach who can take us through a series of questions to get to what level of knowledge we need and then provide it through a virtual conversation.

This technology is readily used in online games and travel and financial services. Why is health care so dinosaurish? With the huge Baby Boomer population entering the ages of more health care risk, we have the clout to expect that we have more easy access and more comprehensive information online so that we can take better care of our bodies. Ask for it!

Let me know your experiences with accessing your health care and what you're doing to request better services. Write to me at

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