ePatients: Engaging Patients in Their Own Care

Daniel Z. Sands, MD, MPH


January 25, 2008


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Every day, more people get healthcare online than those who see a physician. About two thirds of Americans have sought health information online -- although this fraction is relentlessly rising -- and half changed their behavior as a result of their online activities.[1,2] Many don't discuss this activity with their physicians, and most physicians don't welcome it.

These eEmpowered healthcare consumers are simply behaving rationally. Patients are, after all, the biggest stakeholders in their own health. They know the traditional office setting is not user-friendly: It's hard to get a doctor on the phone for advice, difficult to get a timely appointment, and coming in for the appointment obligates up to a half-day away from home or work. So naturally, they look for alternatives. And why shouldn't they? The doctor's office should be reserved for people who really require the special skills offered by physicians.

What do patients want?

Patients want to be able to communicate with their physicians asynchronously, so each person can communicate at his or her convenience.[3] eCommunication serves that purpose very well, but most physicians shy away from it.[4,5] Yet it can be quite efficient for both parties.

Patients want convenience. Booking appointments, requesting prescriptions, obtaining referrals, and other transactions shouldn't require a phone call to an overburdened office. Other industries have learned to use the Web to facilitate these transactions. Why not healthcare?

Patients want information, ideally tailored to their needs. They want to discuss this with their physicians without being shooed away, and would appreciate getting pointers. They even want access to their test results and medical records.

Although many physicians feel threatened by all this, engaging the patient as a partner in her own care can be quite gratifying, improves patient satisfaction, and may even lead to better outcomes.

That's my opinion. I'm Dr. Daniel Z. Sands from Cisco Systems and Harvard Medical School.


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