Study: Digitized Medical Records Aid Communication Between Patient and Doctor

This story first appeared in the Orange County Register.

It took several electronic nudges before Patti Schwebel booked an appointment for an overdue mammogram. Her doctorsat Kaiser Permanente diagnosed breast cancer two years ago after the films revealed a lump.

Schwebel, 56, figures she would have kept putting off the test if not for the prodding in her inbox and ease of scheduling the procedure online.

She also found that electronic medical records helped her better navigate her diagnosis and treatment. She used the system to track and graph her lab results over time, look up definitions of medical terms and view her upcoming appointments.

“It helped me stay a little bit more organized during a very chaotic time in my life,” said Schwebel, who lives in Chino. “It was nice to have that information; it was nice to educate myself.”

As electronic medical records become more common, researchers have studied how their usage impacts patients.

In a study, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Studying Health System Change found that records can improve communication because doctors have immediate access to information. But some doctors may rely too much on the records, at the expense of talking with patients or other doctors.

They may also be tempted to hunt for information or respond to instant messages while with a patient.

Email applications within electronic medical record systems have proved popular, the study found.

Doctors reported that they were more likely to share information with a patient between appointments because they didn’t have to worry about the back and forth of trying to connect by phone.

Schwebel particularly liked emailing her doctors and receiving information that she could read again, rather than deciphering her own notes from appointments. She also didn’t mind her oncologist typing at the computer screen during doctor visits.

“She had great eye contact,” Schwebel said. “I don’t feel less connected with my doctor, I felt just the opposite. I felt more connected to my doctors because during this process I was sending them emails. We would have dialogues back and forth and we would also have conversations face to face.”

John Osorio, 35, said he loves accessing his records electronically through Health Care Partners medical group in Los Alamitos, where he lives. He can check the status of referrals to specialists, pay bills online and fill prescriptions that were sent electronically to his pharmacy.

After undergoing hernia surgery in December, he emailed his doctor frequently with questions about his recovery.

“Some people maybe think they gotta waste a co-pay just to talk to their doctor,” Osorio said. “In one day I must have emailed and he emailed me back maybe 10 times. As busy as the doctor can be, he was very fast.”

Osorio said at first he was reluctant to transition to the system, but he found it much more efficient than picking up the phone to get lab results or make appointments.

“People just gotta let go a little of the old-school calling in and just give it a try,” he said. “It’s so much easier.”

Senior Writer Emily Bazar is based in our Sacramento office, where she covers health care policy in California, with a focus on Obamacare implementation, Medi-Cal budget cuts, children’s dental care and variation in the use of medical treatments. Bazar also writes a biweekly column called “Ask Emily,” which answers readers’ questions about the Affordable Care Act. Her articles are published in newspapers and websites across the state, including The San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Daily News, The Sacramento Bee and The San Jose Mercury News. She also regularly appears on KQED’s Forum, Capital Public Radio’s Insight, KPCC, Valley Public Radio and other on-air programs to discuss health care. Her reporting on Medi-Cal’s troubled children’s dental program was awarded the 2011 California Journalism Award for Special Feature/Enterprise Reporting. Prior to joining the Center for Health Reporting, Bazar was a national reporter for USA TODAY, where she covered immigration, the effects of the economic recession and other topics. Her first journalism job was at The Sacramento Bee. Over nine years, her beats included transportation, higher education, California politics, the energy crisis and immigration. Bazar graduated from Stanford University. Contact email: office: 916-637-8966

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