The idea of a personal health record is not new. Even before the advent of the age of technology, it was wise to keep a list of your medications, allergies and medical problems.
Every mom knows what you mean by the "yellow card" -- a record of our children's immunizations that we are told to keep in a safe place. Later we learn that it has something to do with soccer, too, but that's a different story.
How far have we come? If you were away from home, could you accurately access your medications, allergies and surgical history in an emergency? You might answer, "Of course." But what if you were scared, injured or unconscious?
Over the last month, Google has made news with its plan to pilot a Personal Health Record program with the Cleveland Clinic. The plan will merge information from Cleveland Clinic's MyChart with Google's PHR so that it's readily available anywhere there is Internet access.
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Do we trust Google with that much of our information? Many argue that appropriate safeguards will make this safe; others worry appropriately.
Many Modesto residents are familiar with MyChart. It is the same software Gould uses but calls MySutterOnline. My patients who use MySutterOnline can visit a secure Web site with their health information in much the same way they view their bank statements.
In the olden days, when a patient had blood work done, the lab would print the results on paper, which would then arrive in my office a few days later. I would scribble my response on the piece of paper and my assistant would then interpret my scrawl and create a letter to send to the patient.
Now, the lab report comes to me electronically; for most lab tests, they arrive the same day the blood is drawn. I type my comment on the bottom of the electronic report. If the patient is a MySutterOnline user, they then get a discreet e-mail telling them, "You have a message at MySutterOnline." By visiting the secure site, they can see their results.
It gets better. What if the patient has a question? In the olden days, the patient would call the office. They had the opportunity to enjoy the hold music, then reached an operator who would connect them with the assistant who would take a message for me. I would scribble my answer and the assistant would call the patient back. Now I have MySutterOnline Premium. The patient can send a message to their physician. I type an answer by return e-mail.
E-mail from your patients? Are you nuts, some patients and physicians have asked. You'll be inundated!
They are wrong. I have to answer the same number of questions, whether they arrive via the medical assistant or e-mail. The patient is much more likely to ask a straightforward question when typing into a little box than when talking to me on the phone. I tell patients upfront: You can ask a question and one follow-up; if it takes more than two e-mails, come in for an appointment. There is a limit to cybercare.
I firmly believe that the only way to take care of yourself is to take responsibility for your own health. My job, as a physician, is to give you the tools and knowledge to help you assume that responsibility. MySutterOnline is one of those tools.
Masson is a Modesto physician and mother of three. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.