Prepping Patients for Electronic Health Records

Friday, December 7th, 2007
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

My hair salon can now print me a listing of my appointments for the coming months and will soon launch an e-mail appointment reminder service. Now if only my healthcare providers would do the same.

Much has been written/blogged about the adoption rate among physicians of electronic health records. Depending on who you talk to or read, anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent of physicians already use or soon plan to adopt this technology in their offices. While cost and IT support still pose barriers, it’s pretty much a foregone industry conclusion that most providers will use them eventually. From EHRs it’s only a small step to other IT-enhanced customer services.

But who’s prepping patients for this eventuality? I recently came across this survey from Allen L. Pelletier, MD, FAAFP, Greggory R. Sutton and Raymond R. Walker, MD, MBA at the American Academy of Family Physicians site. The survey, downloadable as a PDF and easily adaptable to a physician’s practice, is designed to help providers gauge patients’ readiness for EHRs.

The sample survey, which can be mailed to patients’ homes, asks patients whether and how they access the Internet and e-mail, if they would like to receive medical information via e-mail, and if so, which types (appointment reminders, e-newsletters, medication refills, test results, physician responses to simple health-related questions, etc.).

The survey is a great starting point and can be tailored to the practice’s (and patients’) needs. Health plans might administer it to members as well. Beyond the questions suggested in this survey, you might also target Gen-X and Gen-Y patient needs by asking if they use Health 2.0 tools such as social networking sites, and whether they’d like information and reminders via text messages sent to their cell phones.

The AAFP survey was well received at the doctors’ practice. Here’s what the doctos said about it:

The results of our survey convinced us that patients are ready to begin using the Internet to communicate with our practice. The patients we surveyed were enthusiastic about receiving appointment reminders by e-mail, scheduling appointments online and receiving test results electronically, and we are planning to offer each of these services in the near future.

If your practice hasn’t begun using the Internet to connect with patients, a survey such as ours is a great starting point. If you already use electronic communication with patients, a patient survey can help you refine your approach. You might be surprised, as we were, to discover that many of your patients use public Internet and e-mail resources or share them with others. It’s important to know this so that you can design protocols for dealing with private or protected health information in electronic communication. Your survey results will also help you identify the services your patients want (e.g., online appointment scheduling versus an electronic practice newsletter).

You can conduct the survey again in the future to see whether their interests have changed. By doing so, you will stay up-to-date on your patients’ level of comfort with the Internet and encourage them to cross the digital divide.

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