These days you can get a text alert to remind you of most anything. Your bank sends you an alert when your account is running low, and your airline emails to let you know your upcoming flight has been revised. You can set a reminder to get your car’s oil changed, so why can’t your doctor’s office send you an email or tweet to help you manage your healthcare?
We know you’re online looking for medical info anyway. The Pew Internet & American Life Project’s “Health Online 2013” survey found roughly 70-75% of Internet users aged 18-64 search online for health information, as do 58% of Internet users aged 65 and over.
Doctors are feeling the pressure to do more online, too. “As more patients are receptive to the digital world, we doctors want to engage them more where they are…online,” Dr. Jason Cunningham, Medical Director at West County Health Centers in California tells Mashable.
But there’s one big, important elephant in the room blocking the digital stampede of online access to your doctor and your healthcare and that’s HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996). The privacy rule protects your personally identifiable health information and sets national electronic security standards for your protected health information. And that’s a good thing.
Since Twitter and Facebook aren’t secure and don’t comply with HIPAA rules, doctors can’t tweet you or post about your specific medical condition using social media. You really wouldn’t want the results of your latest blood work showing up on Facebook anyway, would you?
The downside is your doctor’s office can’t text or tweet you to let you know it’s time for your next check-up or dental cleaning. They can send you a basic text alert (if you opt in to text alerts) that your appointment is upcoming but nothing more specific.
Doctors, health centers and hospitals have made great strides in recent years and are now offering more online interaction than ever before between appointments. They’re turning to the Internet and social media to reach customers and provide information about their facility and practice.
Here are three HIPAA-compliant ways you can access your doctor online:
1. Complete, secure online access to your medical records
Instead of the traditional calling, phone prompts and waiting on hold, new online tools allow secure online communication with your doctor’s office and even your doctor. For example, at any Cleveland Clinic facility, patients now have online access to the same Epic medical records their doctors use through a browser or a mobile app called MyChart.
“You can email your doctor a question or a photo, schedule appointments, print forms, view test results and request medication refills online. This way doctors and patients are on the same page and working together,” says David Levin, M.D., Cleveland Clinic’s Chief Medical Information Officer. He also envisions a two-way video appointment using technology like FaceTime and Skype.
Dr. Robert Myers, lead author of a study of colon cancer patients from the Department of Medical Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University’s Kimmel Cancer Center, says offering more online options and contacting patients in ways they want to be contacted improves adherence to preventative screenings.
So the next time the receptionist asks you to update your patient information sheet, be sure to answer any new questions about which online or mobile technologies you want to use to manage your healthcare.
2. Secure virtual support groups and online forums
Your typical doctor’s appointment is 10-15 minutes, right? Dr. Malcolm Butler, Medical Director at Columbia Valley Community Health Center in Washington, says that is often not enough time and a big part of why people search online for more health information and support from others. Pew’s survey found more people are joining others online for commiseration and motivation; 26% said they read or watched someone else’s health or medical experience and 16% said they searched online for others with similar health concerns.
One problem with online open forums is whether they offer reliable medical information and security for your personal information. Dr. Butler says secure platforms offer HIPAA-compliance, reliability and trust. “What if patients on an open chronic pain forum began selling drugs to each other? Or patients on a weight loss or pregnancy forum began sharing unsound medical advice? That would never happen on a doctor-directed, secure social platform.”
Both Dr. Butler and Dr. Cunningham have recently begun using WellFX, a new secure social platform created for doctors and medical facilities to use with patients and they have offered the virtual groups first to those in live support groups at the different health center locations. Dr. Butler hopes the new doctor-directed online social platforms can expand his doctor care virtually, securely and more conveniently for his patients.
3. Your doctor might be a blogger
Specialty medical blogging is another social way to reach patients and offer reliable health information. Dermatology Nurse-Practitioner Jodi LoGerfo of Orentreich Medical Group in New York City runs a skin and hair health blog called Askjodi.net where she takes questions through the blog. She publishes the questions, along with her professional answers.
“I want to offer trusted, up-to-date skin and hair health information for anyone searching the internet for real answers,” she tells Mashable.
Whenever interacting online about your healthcare, whether on forums, social media or reading blogs and articles, always check that the information is coming from a verifiable doctor, the federal government (such as the National Institutes of Health which are usually identified by a .gov Web address) or a reputable medical facility (such as The Mayo Clinic or The Cleveland Clinic). Remember that when interacting on social networks and forums with others openly online, your healthcare information is not protected.
“The challenge in healthcare is how to protect your personal health information that these social networks are already collecting,” says Dr. Levin.
Would you like your doctor to be more available online? Do you feel like you would use an online support group if it were private? Let us know in the comments.