Consumer Reports recently published this forward-looking analysis of the ambitious American make patients more active partners in their own health care via “patient portals.”
We shall see how it turns out.
For this to work here, there would need to be a rethinking of how doctors are compensated for the work they do. While there is a huge convenience factor for patients to email their doctors, there are also issues related to the security and confidentiality of email. Email is also very time consuming. A particular question which can be dealt with in person in just a few minutes may take much more time via a series of emails.
My personal opinion? Patient portals are a useful way for communicating important health care information to patients. Information about office hours, news of local disease outbreaks, availability of vaccines, contact information for patient support groups, and info on a variety of common and self-treatable conditions could be communicated easily by such means.
However, I don’t think we in New Brunswick have sufficient human resources to engage in two-way email discussions of heath issues. Even in our increasingly high-tech world, there is still much to be gained form a face-to-face meeting. Correctly diagnosing and treating disease required a detailed, interactive history, pausing to further explore the details of important symptoms, followed by a directed physical examination, and possibly diagnostic testing. Most doctors I know find it difficult to adequately assess patients properly over the telephone. Email would be an order of magnitude more difficult, and I suspect would significantly diminish the ability to accurately diagnose.
Still, I wish our American neighbours good luck with their venture, and will watch their progress with interest over the coming years.