From electronic health records to “e-visits” with doctors and nurses for minor ailments, the speed and expanded access to medical information is helping health professionals treat people more efficiently and safely than ever before.
About two-thirds of family doctors now keep patient information on electronic records and as much as 80 percent are expected to rely on them in the near future, a new study found. While there remain questions about patient privacy and the expense of converting from paper to digital records, most doctors believe the change means better medical care will be the result.
According to the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers at the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Primary Care in Washington D.C., found that 68 percent of family doctors across the U.S. are using electronic records to some degree. The percentage varies by state, with North Dakota at the low end of 47 percent and Utah with the highest use, nearly 95 percent.
In addition to reducing handwriting errors, e-records are expected to lower medical costs in the long run by reducing duplicative services, the study found.
E-visits are gaining
Reuters Health reports that “e-visits” are also being used for minor health complaints such as sinus infections, which save money on office visits and generally yield the same results. Patients fill in online forms and typically are contacted by a doctor or nurse offering treatment advice within a few hours.
A studyby researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Medical reviewed both e-visits and office visits for sinus infections and urinary tract infections in Pittsburgh from January 2010 to May 2011. Of a total 8,000 medical appointments for the two ailments, more than 90 percent were in-person visits. But both types of visits had the same low rate of follow-up of seven percent, indicating that further treatment was probably necessary.
“All over the country, more and more of these e-visits are taking place,” James Rohrer, M.D., a family practitioner at the Mayo Clinic, told Reuters. “If you’re not feeling well, getting cleaned up and going into a clinic may not be too attractive.”
The one major difference was that antibiotics were more likely to be prescribed during the e-visits. As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s publication Internal Medicine, the research team believes that doctors tend to be more conservative in treatment when they cannot examine a patient in person.
Other approaches, such as encouraging patients to take vitamins and minerals that boost their immunity, may also be suggested to patients as easily in e-visits as during traditional office appointments. The dietary supplement Ultimate Reds from Dr. Newton’s Naturals offers the antioxidant value of 20 fruits and vegetables. It improves immune function, supports joints and contributes to good cardiovascular health.
Targeting teen health
Trying to deliver healthcare to populations that aren’t likely to seek it out on their own is another area that may benefit from technology. One example is a program that sends healthy lifestyle text messages to teens in the hope that they will adopt better eating habits.
During a one-year study, a research team from the University of Arizona conducted a trial program with 177 teens to learn their texting preferences for healthy lifestyle messaging content, format, frequency and mode of delivery.
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior reported that the teens preferred an active content style recommending good habits that they could readily adopt.
Study author Melanie Hingle, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona, decided taking an age-appropriate approach through the widespread use of smartphones by teens was an easier way to encourage healthy habits rather than relying on school-based programs on nutrition and fitness aimed at reducing child obesity.