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Transforming the Patient Experience with Technology

By Dr. David C. Pate, News and Community
November 29, 2012

Editor’s note: My article that follows originally appeared as a column in the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider earlier this month.

Would you like to view your medical record online?

According to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study, 90 percent of patients would. 

Would you like to be able to email your physician? According to that same study, 85 percent of patients want to be able to do that. 

And I’m one of them.

I’m also fortunate, in that I am among the minority nationwide with access to my electronic medical record online, which St. Luke’s is in the process of implementing in waves. 

Part of St. Luke’s vision is to make care seamless for patients and their families and integrated for physicians and other providers, and myStLuke’s, our electronic medical record, is helping us do just that. It is better coordinating care and helping prevent unnecessary duplication of tests and unanticipated medication interactions.

As a patient, I’m already seeing the benefits.

A few weeks ago, I was suffering with my allergies. I’d tried over-the-counter medications without success, so I emailed my physician using my iPhone app. I promptly received a reply notifying me that my physician was transmitting a prescription to my pharmacy for prescription-strength medication.

Previously, I would have waited until the office was open, had to explain to the receptionist why I was calling, explained everything again to the nurse, then waited for her to talk to the doctor and get back to me. Using the app saved me considerable time and effort.

But it’s not only time and effort. The access also is a critical component in quality and in cost, aims where St. Luke’s is determined to make progress.

A recent Journal of General Internal Medicine study demonstrated that electronic health records were associated with overall higher quality for primary care. I’ll illustrate how that’s possible by illustrating what happens now.  

Let’s say you have abdominal pain and see your physician in his office on Thursday. He orders a CAT scan, which is performed on Friday.

It is now after 5 p.m. Friday, you have not heard the results of your scan, and your pain has gotten worse.  You call your physician’s office, but it’s closed, with a different physician on call who is not familiar with your case.

You go to the ER, but the scan was not performed at the hospital, so there is no record of it. The emergency room physician orders another CAT scan. You now have had a second dose of contrast, twice the radiation, and twice the cost. 

What we see is that with electronic medical records, communication is improved, unnecessary duplication and costs are reduced, and care is better coordinated.

And patients can, and do, take an active role in improving their own wellness and care when they have access to their health information.

In the past, physicians have had concerns about patient access to their medical records – will they misinterpret something, become overly concerned about a minor abnormality, or create a need for extended explanations? 

A new study shows that these fears are largely unfounded. For one year, more than 13,000 patients from three medical centers were provided complete access to the notes physicians took about them. Patients were enthusiastic about the access, and so were physicians. Seventy-four percent of the physicians experienced none of the feared outcomes, and none decided to terminate the access.

Most felt that there was more trust, better communication, more shared decision-making and increased patient satisfaction. And almost 80 percent of patients indicated that they followed physician recommendations better as the result of the transparency.

About The Author

David C. Pate, M.D., J.D., is president and CEO of St. Luke's Health System, based in Boise, Idaho. Dr. Pate joined the System in 2009. He received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center.