When most patients think of the internet, the first thing which pops into their mind is that they can use it to search for medical information. While it is true that this is still the commonest use of the internet today, the better news is that there are a lot of clever utilities on the internet which patients can use to get better medical care – and many of these are free.
The single most important medical application which is available on the internet now is the PHR – the Personal Health Record. This is available free at Times Wellness ( www.timeswellness.com ) and the TimesWellness PHR allows you to store all your medical records ( including your CT scan images and lab results ) in one place. Because it’s online, it’s instantly available 24/7 – and can even be accessed through your mobile. This means that all your vital medical information is available to your family members in an emergency – or to you , even when you are travelling ! Keeping a PHR allows you to save money, and also helps you to improve the quality of your medical care, because it improves the communication between your doctor; your consultants and you ! With a PHR you will never lose old test reports ; or repeat tests unnecessarily, because your cardiologist does not know what your gastroenterologist is doing ! PHRs are especially useful for patients with chronic illnesses, such as hypertension and diabetes, as they allow you to record, track and graph your blood sugar levels and blood pressure ( BP ) levels over time – information which can be critically important in helping your doctor providing you with the right medical care ! You can try this out free at http://diabetescare.yoscare.in/.
The internet also makes talking to your doctor much easier ! Just like the telephone made house calls obsolete a generation ago, new internet technology ( such as telemedicine , video-chat and web-conferencing for eVisits ) can make a visit to the doctor’s clinic obsolete for many routine problems in a few years ! In fact, email has already become the preferred mode of communication for many progressive doctors, because it means they don’t have to play telephone tag with their patients; and ensures that all instructions are documented, so there’s less scope for confusion or misunderstanding. Cutting edge doctors in the US such as Dr Parkinson ( http://www.jayparkinsonmd.com/ ) now manage their entire practice from their website. They do not have a clinic or an assistant; they allow patients to contact them through their website; and make house calls to treat patients. This is a great new model of personalized, high-touch , high-tech medicine called concierge medicine !
The good thing about the internet is it allows you to form online communities , which is what the Web 2.0 hype is all about. Being ill can be very depressing ; and causes social isolation, especially when you have a chronic illness such as multiple sclerosis, AIDS, infertility or cancer, because other “normal” people often do not understand what you are going through. Many websites allow patients to talk with each other so that they can share important medical tips; and provide emotional support as well. There are many Bulletin Boards and Forums, where patients with a particular disease can interact with each other; and where newbies can learn from “expert patients”.
In recent years, “ E-patients “ have become even more active because new web tools ( such as blogs and wikis ) have made online publishing and sharing of content so easy. They help each other in their time of need. If you need help and support, you can publish your own care pages free online at websites such as http://www.carepages.com/ and www.careflash.com!
Some websites such as www.patientslikeme.com have gone one step further. They allow patients to upload their medical details online, so that this information can be collated, analysed and used for research.
All health insurance companies in the US have their own websites. Not only do these provide valuable information to help clients remain healthy; they also help to reduce the company’s transaction costs, by allowing customers to fill in forms online. It’s also possible to buy health insurance policies online now ! It’s just a matter of time until Indian companies catch up.
Many pharmacies sell medicines online . Not only does this save you a trip to the chemist; it often saves you considerable money, as you can buy inexpensive generics; or shop for the best deal.
Smart US companies such as MyMedLab ( http://www.mymedlab.com ) allow patients to order their own lab tests online ! You still need to go to the lab to get your blood sample drawn – but you save on the doctor’s fees !
As the web becomes ubiquitous, and as mobile phones become smarter, many health applications will be available on the mobile. The mobile will act as an extension of your doctor, and will be used extensively to help you remain well – for example, to help you manage your diet; motivate you to exercise; or to lose weight. And what of the future ? It may actually be possible to implant health sensors which will upload readings to a central monitoring station through the web – allowing better management of chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes !