Electronic medical records can allow patients to take more control over their medical histories and futures.
Patient portals, like MyChart, are available at local hospital systems and allow patients to log on from any computer, check test results, order prescription refills and communicate directly with their doctors. In the future, the hospitals plan to expand these systems to bring doctors and patients together in more ways.
St. Mary Medical Center and the entire Community Healthcare System use a comprehensive collection of modules from the Epic system, including MyChart, where patients access their own records and can communicate with their providers directly.
Snezana Zubic, M.D., an internist in the Community Healthcare System, has successfully used MyChart with many of her patients and said if a physician is interested in it, the patients will be too.
“If you as a physician are motivated and think this is a nice and useful feature, then half the job is done,” Zubic says. “You help the patients during the rooming session of the office visit. If they are indecisive about it working, then I explain to them how it works and what the advantages are. That seems to be the key.”
She said the system is patient friendly with many patient safety features.
“Modern patients are pretty technologically and computer savvy and do want to have ability to access their charts. They do want to be able to communicate with you.”
She said her patients use MyChart for everything from asking her advice to checking their blood results and looking over her comments and interpretations.
“It’s not a social network but a direct communication with your doctor.” It gives her patients comfort and a feeling that she is accessible.
“I appreciate it because it bypasses all the middle men and women that they usually have to jump though,” she says.
Although 90 percent of her patients use the system, she still said it’s difficult for patients who were conditioned over the years to receive a phone call with test results or advice.
“You have to see the purpose. Your patients will follow. Some of them shy away or have no computer or are not computer savvy. You don’t force them. You just make it available and give them additional options. Most of them appreciate it across the generations.”
Claude Foreit, president of the Franciscan Physician Network, said they also use Epic and MyChart.
“From a patient’s perspective, we are actively trying to leverage our Epic electronic health record and patient portal, MyChart, to allow for patients to check laboratory results, imaging results such as CAT scans, MRIs, schedule appointments, request prescription refills and communicate safely for nonemergent problems with their provider.”
The network has used MyChart for two years and is actively expanding the access that patients will have to that portal, Foreit says. Patients will be able to check their problem list, review their immunization history and eventually update their health status.
“I think we’re seeing it being embraced more and more,” he says. “It’s definitely growing and it’s growing exponentially. Because we’re on Epic, in 2014 we’ll be able to allow patients to link their patient portal from other Epic providers so they can access all of their portals from one place.”
Loyola and University of Chicago are examples of other local hospitals on Epic, he says. Patients who see specialists at those facilities, can access the records though the same portal.
Franciscan Alliance is one of the founding supporters of the Indiana Health Information Exchange, which helps different hospitals and health systems around the state share medical records electronically, Foreit says.
“If one of our patients were to go to a hospital in Indianapolis, we’d be able to get electronic copies of their medical records to those facilities through the (exchange)."
Franciscan Alliance also uses data when it comes to healthcare analytics of a patient. For example, a doctor can bring together data from the electronic health network for a diabetes patients and ensure their five key points of treatment are being met. A diabetes patient whose care is under control can cost about $1,800 a year as opposed to one who is not controlled costing $20,000 a year or higher.
Bringing information together from various sources is key to lowering costs and better health for the patient, Foreit says.
Ray Malenki, 31, of Calumet City, has experience using electronic medical records through hospitals in Chicago. Over the past three years, Malenki spent a lot of time in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals with a chronic condition that required multiple hospitalizations and procedures.
He kept all of his doctors at the same location, Northwestern University in Chicago, so that everything was linked, he says. He hoped this would prevent tests from being repeated and doctors doing double the work on his case. Sometimes doctors did catch tests he had already done by using the system, he said, but other times there were still issues.
“If I wasn’t aware of what was going on, it would have been massive repeats.”
He encourages patients to keep track of their own medical records and have a paper copy. The concepts behind MyChart and electronic databases are good, he says, but they are still in early stages and need improvement.
“They are definitely good ideas,” he says, “but execution isn’t there. Nothing beats a paper copy.”