As doctors get better at managing acute health problems, we are living longer. That’s the good news.
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The bad news is that we are living longer with chronic health problems.
A looming healthcare crisis
To make matters worse, the elderly population is expanding as baby boomers age. And this is happening as the pool of primary care doctors is shrinking in America.
How will so many people with chronic health needs get proper care? “We are looking at a huge healthcare crisis,” says Cleveland Clinic internist Neil Mehta, MD. “We need to rethink our strategies for managing chronic diseases.”
Strategies being considered include:
- Training more physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) to provide a bridge between physician visits.
- Creating “primary care medical homes” for people living at home with chronic diseases to provide them with team-based, patient-centered care.
- Empowering older patients to use computerized personal health records (PHRs) to stay on top of lab results, checkups and prescriptions.
Dr. Mehta is most excited by the promise technology holds. Not surprising since he is Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of Education Technology at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of CWRU.
Empowering patients is key
“Patients who take ownership of their health do better than patients who don’t,” says Dr. Mehta. Personal health records can empower patients to take ownership of their health in between doctor visits.
Studies show that using PHRs increases the likelihood that patients will follow doctors’ orders. Doing what the doctor says — including taking medication as prescribed — is critical to staying healthy and out of the hospital.
Unfortunately, in the midst a health crisis it’s easy to forget what the doctor tells us. The results can be disastrous after a hospital stay. They can be deadly if medication errors are involved.
“In one study, patients who were trained to use a PHR had fewer readmissions and lower hospital costs,” says Dr. Mehta.
Advantages of PHRs
While personal health records don’t replace the human connection between a doctor and patient, they can give patients access to doctors’ orders and much more, including:
- Viewing lab results promptly — sometimes within hours.
- Linking to websites that explain test results.
- Refilling prescriptions
- Reading doctor visit summaries
- Reading messages about changes in treatment
- Getting reminders for appointments and health checks
- Tracking glucose and cholesterol levels to see trends over time
- Uploading data from monitoring devices
Computers don’t scare seniors
Some people argue that seniors are too intimidated to go online. Grace Montgomery, a retired 71-year-old teacher from Warrensville Heights, Ohio, would disagree. She regularly browses menus and movie reviews online. She checks her email. And six years ago, Dr. Mehta encouraged her to sign up for MyChart, Cleveland Clinic’s PHR, to keep track of her diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol.
Today, she logs on to see lab results, refill prescriptions, read Dr. Mehta’s visit summaries and schedule visits. She tracks her blood sugar levels by creating a graph that shows whether they are trending up or down. “I can see where I am today compared with where I was two years ago,” says Mrs. Montgomery.
Her experience is not unique. Any senior who wants to stay in touch with grandchildren needs to know his or her way around a computer.
Some elderly patients may lack access to a computer or the Web or may have problems with thinking and memory. In these cases, their caregivers can request special access to their personal health records.
Cleveland Clinic has online medical records for patients
To view portions of your Cleveland Clinic medical record, make online appointments, renew prescriptions and more, sign up for MyChart from Cleveland Clinic.