Atlanta Women’s Specialists, the long-term Ob/Gyn practice affiliated with Northside Hospital, is leading the way as one of the first physicians’ offices in Georgia to provide patients with online access to personal medical records, a new but growing trend in practices across the United States. The practice also allows patients direct e-mail contact with their physician. This inclusive approach to care strengthens communication between doctors and patients and encourages patients’ participation in their own care.
According to a 2009 Pew study, the number of adults in the United States who go online to seek health information has increased by 36% since 2000. This shift in behavior reveals that consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with and trustworthy of the Internet. Consumers are also interested in online access to personal health information. The 2009 Survey of Health Care Consumers (Deloitte) found that 42% of people want access to online personal health records. As a result, medical practices are seeking ways to address the growing demand for online accessibility.
Atlanta Women’s Specialists launched their online health records portal, MyHealthRecords, in 2004 on their website, www.AWSPhysicians.com. The system allows patients to securely view and print most of their medical records online by logging in with a username and password. It also allows patients to request prescription refills, e-mail a doctor or nurse directly, and request appointments. Since its inception, patients’ usage of the online portal has grown rapidly: on average, there were 1,500 monthly account logins in 2006; in 2008, that number rose to 6,761. The round-the-clock availability of vital medical information eliminates the hassle—for both patients and staff—of retrieving medical records, and allows patients to access their records during after-office hours.
Atlanta Women’s Specialists also provides patients with direct access to their physicians, which reduces phone call traffic and broadens the line of doctor-patient communication. Patients can ask health-related questions at their leisure, directly to their physician, without any miscommunication and delay that can be caused by a third party. Physicians at Atlanta Women’s Specialists respond directly to their patients’ questions within 48 hours.
“Some people (outside of Atlanta Women’s Specialists) have the impression that our online system and e-mail communication depersonalizes the doctor-patient relationship,” says Dr. Maria Arias at Atlanta Women’s Specialists. “In fact, it does just the opposite. Patients contact me with questions that they aren’t comfortable asking face-to-face or questions they forgot to ask during an appointment. Sure, it means more work on my end, but when patients come back because they’re happy with our service, it’s worth it.”
In 2002, the practice implemented Allscripts Professional™ EHR, a fully functioning electronic health record (EHR) system. In addition to reducing paper, the EHR system allows doctors access to patients’ records while on call, from satellite offices or the hospital—something physicians were previously unable to do with paper charts.
According to a 2008 survey of doctors by the New England Journal of Medicine, only 4% of all physicians have a fully functioning EHR system, which makes Atlanta Women’s Specialists an early adopter of this useful technology. In the study, 83% of the doctors using EHR systems report that the systems improve clinical care; 86% say it has helped avoid medication errors.
The interactive features at www.AWSPhysicians.com provide a more holistic approach to medical care, wherein women and their families can play an active role in their health. “I love being able to check lab results and request prescription refills online,” says Tina McRae, a patient at Atlanta Women’s Specialists. “When I was pregnant, the online system was a life saver—I could double check the time for my next appointment and keep tabs on my tests and progress. And I still can’t believe I can e-mail my doctor directly. It’s perfect for the silly questions I have but don’t want to call and bother my doctor.”