Patients are empowering themselves. We are overwhelmingly using Internet sites like WebMD and social media to research and discuss symptoms, diseases, and treatments. We are purchasing and using digital health devices and software by the millions.
Now patients are starting to demand direct delivery of lab test results instead of waiting for that call from the doctor’s office that always seems to be delayed or worse, never made.
A little-known proposed regulation issued in 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services would allow lab test providers to send test results directly to patients. While a final regulation has not been issued, perhaps due to the current political climate in Washington, the regulation is being welcomed by patient advocates and viewed with skepticism by some physicians.
As the article states,
Increasing the ability of patients to have direct access to all their medical information allows patients to more effectively manage their own health care and organize electronic copies of their own data – a major benefit of the health care system’s ongoing transition to digital records…Most broadly, this expanded access gives patients the ability to be as engaged as they choose in their own health and care.
Some unenlightened physicians are lamenting the perceived loss of control and cite the risks involved when patients have uninformed access to clinical data. Other doctors welcome the opportunity to stay in the loop while patients take more responsibility for their own healthcare and data.
Again, from the article:
… A 2009 study published in the Archive of Internal Medicine indicated that providers failed to notify patients (or document notification) of abnormal test results more than 7 percent of the time. The National Coordinator for Health IT recently put the figure at 20 percent. This failure rate is dangerous, as it could lead to more medical errors and missed opportunities for valuable early treatment.
How can sending lab test results directly to patients be a bad thing if the doctor still receives a copy of the results and continues the practices of alerting patients to abnormal results while offering to interpret the data?
In another empowering development, some patients are now able to skip the dreaded visit to the primary care physician, the one where they wait, wait, and wait some more while being exposed to who knows what communicable diseases in the practice’s waiting room. People in the south Puget Sound region of Washington in the Franciscan Health System service area have the ability to have a virtual visit with a physician 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a reasonable $35 fee (not paid by insurance). The consultation may result in a referral to a physical facility or prescribing of medications. How convenient!
From the article:
“In some cases, patients just want to know if they need to go to the emergency room,” said Dr. Ben Green of Franciscan Virtual Urgent Care. “In fact, most of the time our providers are able to keep them out of the emergency room and patients are quite happy about that.”
The virtual visit with a real doctor is conducted via Skype video teleconferencing or by plain old-fashioned telephone.
The telemedicine service is actually offered by Carena, a Seattle-based company, in partnership with Franciscan. Carena started offering the service in 2010 to private companies and is now expanding to healthcare systems.
Takeaways: Empowered patients and consumers represent an enormous opportunity for medical device and digital health companies. The pharmaceutical industry proved the viability and profitability of direct-to-consumer marketing in the 1990s.
As more patients are comfortable managing their own electronic health records and in keeping their records “in the cloud,” there will be increasing demand for apps, software, and web services to facilitate and secure those transactions and records. The market niche of people who self-monitor their health, fitness, and vital signs with digital health devices and apps will steadily increase as the devices and software get more capable and easier to use.