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.