Monday, March 16, 2009

Save time and money using the internet for healthcare

Everyone talks about how expensive healthcare is, yet few people have started to really look at how it could be cheaper for patients. Many of the costs of healthcare are the result of inefficient practices that arise from a system that has not been focused on patients, and has just assumed that patients will travel from one clinic to the next, from one lab to another, and from home to hospital. Most doctors practices and health systems try and save money for themselves, but not for patients, and often they actually make more money by being inefficient because patients end up having more consultations and repeat tests than are really necessary, and paying for them. There are now many ways that the internet can be used to save both time and money, and to therefore ultimately make healthcare cheaper for everyone.

As a practicing physician, here are my suggestions:

1. Try to travel less for your healthcare.

If you can reduce the number of face to face consultations you have you will not only save the cost of those consultations, but will also save the time and travel costs they involved. Ask your doctor if they use email – often a quick email response saying that your results are normal can save a whole consultation for you. Or sign up for a personal health record that you can share with your doctor, and see all your own results online. Many health systems have shared electronic records. Think about using telemedicine for your consultations, if your primary care doctor has access, and avoid traveling long distances to see specialists for consultations in dermatology, ophthalmology, psychiatry, pediatrics and endocrinology, to name a few.

2. Make sure you are getting the best, and most up to date, treatment?

Check out information on treatment guidelines and clinical trials on the internet, and make sure you are getting the best and most up to date treatment, so that you get better and back to work as quickly as possible. Nothing is more expensive than being off sick when you don’t need to be.

3. Ensure you are receiving electronic prescriptions?

Learn about your medications and ask your doctor if they e-prescribe. If they don’t then ask why not. Once your doctor e-prescribes you should be able to have your prescriptions sent automatically to the pharmacy of your choice – either the one closest to where you live, so that you can pick up your prescriptions in no time, or to a cheaper pharmacy, locally or by mail, that you have researched on the internet. Drug prices in the US are extremely high, and you can often save a lot of money by carefully comparing prices.

4. Get the most appropriate health insurance for yourself.

Do some homework on the internet, compare health insurance programs, look at your needs, and choose the best value most comprehensive program you can find. Remember that the cheapest program is not necessarily the best, and you may find yourself paying large amounts of co-payments if you are not careful.

5. Find the best doctor for you and your family.

Check out your doctor’s expertise, their qualifications and their experience. Go to the State Medical Board website and you will often be able to find out if they have ever had any claims against them. Many doctors now detail how many surgeries they have performed, what their infection rates are, and how many patients they have treated for a particular disorder. Choose experienced doctors whose patients are least likely to have expensive and time consuming complications – a huge potential waste of time and money for you, never mind the extra pain and sickness. See which hospitals your doctor works at if you need an inpatient admission, and check out the quality of those hospitals on the many “scorecards” that are becoming available.

The bottom line is that you can save lots of time and money by using the internet for your healthcare. Make sure you do as much research as possible before you see your doctor – let’s face it you don't go and see your accountant to do your taxes without collecting information beforehand. Do the same with your doctor. The Internet is the easiest source of information to use. So use it.

This article is based on excerpts from the recently published book “Your Health in the Information Age – how you and your doctor can use the Internet to work together” by Peter Yellowlees MD. Available at and most online bookstores.

1 comment:

  1. Saving time and money is what the Information Age is about.

    Travelling less is crucial now that gas prices are so high. But your time is valuable, too. Utilizing email to receive normal test results is a great way to save time. However, discussing interpretation of those results and a making a plan of action should require a two-way, interactive consultation with your provider. Technology should augment the medical consultation process not replace it. Telemedicine or e-health is a fantastic way to bridge your follow-up care. Talk to your provider and establish a comfort zone for both you and your provider when it comes to discussing your healthcare. Remember that certain state laws prohibit or restrict certain forms of electronic communication.

    Electronic prescriptions are the greatest thing since sliced bread. However, not all prescriptions can be transmitted electronically (controlled substances). Encourage your provider to use e-prescribing as much as possible.

    Finding a provider that you feel comfortable is also crucial. Check out their background but find someone you can establish a good patient-physician relationship with. If you are not comfortable with them, you will be less likely to trust them and be less likely to be satisfied with your care. It's your body. Be proactive!

    Jonathan S. Ware, MD