Doctor on Call: Your Guide to Online Healthcare
Keeping Your Health Records Online
Once you've found the right doc, you can use the Internet to expedite the care you get by keeping your health records and a journal of your daily health and fitness routine online and updating them regularly.
"There are major benefits to recording and reviewing your health habits," says Paul Keckley, PhD, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a research company that studies healthcare trends. People tend to stick to a plan when they record their day-to-day regimen, he points out, whether it's detailing a workout session, what they eat, or which pills they've taken. "It's part of the notion that if you go to the trouble of writing down how you treat your body, you tend to make more right choices for yourself."
In addition, Keckley says, "research suggests that people who use online records are more likely to be their own advocate when talking to their doctor about treatments. By having access to their files, they learn more about their condition and are better informed." Currently, 38 percent of doctors' offices use electronic health records, up 10 percent from three years ago.
So where do you go to start creating your own? Most major insurance companies are developing tools on their Web sites that will help customers organize medical information electronically. Alternatively, if your doctor does keep e-files, ask for a link and password to your records that allows you to have all your test results, past hospital visits, pharmacy information, and administrative records at your fingertips.
Another option: Web sites that let you maintain your own records. "Some companies, like Microsoft, have free software you can download to organize your health information," Keckley says. You can also go to myPHR.com, a free site sponsored by the American Health Information Management Association, a nonprofit health-advocacy group, and follow a step-by-step process for creating an e-record.
The most important step is protecting your personal information. "Start with your own computer and network," says Robert Siciliano, founder and CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com in Boston. "Make sure your virus protection, spyware removal, and firewalls are all running properly and are up-to-date." Most programs will automatically update information when you start up your computer, but you can also periodically check the home pages for whichever brands you use to see if there are any new software packages. If you're on a wireless connection, create a password (you'll be prompted by your computer when you set up the router). "Use a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters as well as numbers -- this makes it less likely to be hacked," Siciliano says.
The bottom line: Online medical records is the way of the future. And though software companies are constantly improving their security programs, it's ultimately up to you to be sure your information is safe. "It's the people who say, 'It can't happen to me' that worry me most," Siciliano says. "Because, I promise you, if you don't stay current with your software protection, it can and it will happen to you."
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