Docs write pescriptions for Internet time

By Healthcare IT News
12:00 AM

Doctors in Georgia and Iowa have been giving their patients a different kind of prescription - one that has them logging in online rather than rushing off to the nearest pharmacy.

It's a new program conceived and developed by the American College of Physicians Foundation for the 115,000 internists who make up thePhiladelphia-based American College of Physicians.

After a year of successful trials in Georgia and Iowa, the ACP Foundation has taken the program nationwide.

The idea is to encourage the nation's internists to write prescriptions for a sanctioned healthcare Web site of free medical information. It'sMedlinePlus, www.medlineplus.com, the site run by the National Library ofMedicine. The foundation has even provided the doctors with custom-made prescription pads.

Once the physicians have logged onto the site themselves, they quickly grasp the value, said Dr. Jacqueline Fincher, who helped launch the program in Georgia. Fincher, who practices internal medicine at McDuffie Medical Associates in Thomson, Ga., said patients, too, have welcomed the new prescriptions, because it's helped them ask the right questions and participate in their own care.

"An involved patient does better," Fincher said.

Handing the patient a prescription is key to winning patient participation, Fincher said. "When you write a prescription for an MedlinePlus, it indicates to the patient that this is as important as a prescription for a drug," she said.

Dr. Sarah T. Corley, of Internal Medicine Associates in Arlington, Va., agreed. "Even when doctors do keep information booklets in the office, they often do not hand them out because it is time consuming to track them down," she said. "Also patients can start at the link that you suggest but branch off into other links that seem relevant to them. Thereare also wonderful interactive sites where vision or reading skills are notan issue because there is verbal information."

Dr. Whitney W. Addington, chairman of the ACP Foundation board of trustees said the information on the Medline Plus site makes it easier for internists to care for their patients. "Part of an internist's job is to explain illnesses and diagnoses to their patients," he said. The site, he said, offers authoritative, user-friendly and commercial-free information. Fincher agrees.

"It's a library of only credible information," she said, and it only takes you to other credible places.

Dr. Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD, director of the National Library of Medicine, said he expects both doctors and patients will welcome the site as one more medical tool. "Physicians have always known that an informed patient who takes an active role is a better patient," he said. MedlinePlus has information on more than 650 diseases and conditions.

Of the more than 500 doctors in the pilot programs in Georgia and Iowa, 97 percent made information referrals to the Web, and 59 percent used the prescription pads to do so, according to ACP. Twenty percent of the doctors reported an increase in patients bringing Internet information to an office visit.

In Virginia, those who signed up forthe program are very pleased with it," Corley said. "Like all new ways of doing things, you have to overcome the barrier of change. Doctors sometimes take a littlewhile to get used to having the information prescription pads and thereforeusing them. We leave them in every exam room as a reminder and once we gotin the habit, we use them regularly."

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