Gone are the days when patients can afford to be passive about their healthcare, says Nancy Finn, author of the new book e-Patients Live Longer: The Complete Guide to Managing Health Care Using Technology.
“The ‘e’ in e-patient stands for empowered, engaged and educated,” says Finn, a Boston-based medical consultant who works with medical institutions on the development and implementation of digital communications. She has also written a book for doctors titled Digital Communication in a Medical Practice.
The mission of her latest book is to convince people, through tips and guidelines, to become those "e-patients," she says. “It’s important to deal with the complexities of the healthcare system we live with; to get proper healthcare for yourself, and to communicate with your providers.”
“In our journey through life, every one of us faces healthcare issues,” Finn says. “Planning and thinking about this really helps to create better outcomes. It’s all about outcomes when you come down to it.”
Finn provides anecdotal examples in her book, based upon interviews with scores of people, she says. Some of her tips to e-patients include:
Find a doctor who uses electronic health records. More and more doctors have converted to EHRs, but if your physician hasn’t gone digital yet, "you need to think about how much you like this doctor and how well you communicate with one another,” Finn says. If it’s not worth it to you to stay, you might want to find a new doctor who uses EHRs and secure email. But, make sure your doctor is not just digital for digital's sake. “It’s not the record itself, it’s the communication dynamic between you and your doctor that is so important,” she says.
Ask questions. “People don’t ask enough questions during an office visit. At annual physicals, patients should be asking their doctors a lot of questions, Finn says. “Why are you ordering this test? Do I really need it? What can I expect to be the side effect? When should I see you again? Can I communicate with you via email?”
Create a personal health record. Finn urges all patients to create a personal health record with medical histories, medications and allergies. “Digital communication tools will help you become an empowered patient,” she says.
Use the Internet wisely. The Internet can be a great source of information for patients, and often the first place people look for networking with other patients, learning about an illness or finding doctors. But, Finn says patients should be careful to make sure they are using trustworthy sites. The best places to look are institutional websites, including those by major hospitals; healthcare trade association websites; and federally operated gateway sites such as healthfinder.gov.
Protect yourself from medical errors and hospital-acquired infections. Hospitalized patients need to be observant. Speak up if doctors, aides and nurses aren’t washing their hands properly. Double check medication with nurses to make sure it is the correct. Get someone to advocate for you if you are too ill. “Most hospitals today very preoccupied with quality issues. They are happy to provide social workers to advocate for patients,” Finn says.
Adhere to your medication. Failure to adhere to a medication plan is one of the biggest causes of hospital readmissions. Patients should speak up if prescribed medication is beyond what their budget can handle and ask for alternatives, says Finn. Patients need to collaborate as full partners with their medical team, including their pharmacists.