In case you haven’t noticed, the practice of medicine has changed…a lot! You are either up-to-date and along for the ride (albeit a bumpy one for many) or you will be phased out.

eHealth, which became a universal term in the 21st century (despite its development in the late 90s) covers a broad spectrum of medical practice using electronic devices including:

ePrescribing – sending prescriptions to pharmacies for patients or printing out prescriptions to patients directly in order to cut down on drug errors derived from inability to read the handwriting

Electronic health records – recording patient information digitally which enables easier access and sharing between specialists

Computerized test outcomes – retrieving radiological images, EKGs and laboratory results as well as the ability to order diagnostic examinations

Portals – entries into patient records as well as access to communication with doctors and healthcare practices for scheduling of appointments, posting questions for the doctors or nurse practitioners, viewing results

Clinical Support – accessing online information about accepted protocols and medical standards for treating and diagnosing individuals

Epidemiological tracking – highlights patterns in symptoms and geographical areas for medical conditions/illnesses

Latest information – reveals the newest articles from medical journals and practice guidelines

Consumer health tools – aka mHealth, using smart devices and apps to enable patient control and reporting of various body functions like vital signs, glucose levels, weight and exercise management

Virtual health teams – collaborating between specialties for the management of specific patients and medical conditions

Telemedicine – monitoring patient functions from a distance using remote devices and both physical and psychological remote therapies and diagnosis

Medical research – aggregating data and disease entities

Benefits of eHealth 

The seven biggest groups to gain real advantages to digital healthcare involve:

1. Rural, Outlying settings -for those patients who are far away from hospitals, health facilities and physician care giving access to medical treatment

2. Home-restricted/incapacitated patients – for patients who are bedridden or have special needs, these individuals can obtain healthcare without the burden of trying to obtain difficult transportation

3. Healthcare Givers/ Home health aides – enables givers of patients to care for their charges by aggregating the data they need and giving access to physicians and healthcare information

4. Remote, inaccessible settings – medical access in war arenas and migrant camps, mountainous areas and regions that are difficult for physicians to physically travel to

5. Chronic conditions – empowers patients suffering from chronic medical problems to monitor themselves, develop a routine care plan and seek medical contact only when necessary

Patients with chronic problems can also share notes and compare treatments with others who suffer from the same condition.

6. Contagious conditions – enables patients to receive medical attention without spreading viral/bacterial/parasitic infections to others

7. Self-monitoring – enables individuals to track, record and transmit personal data with sensors or applications and smart devices while obviating the same tracking, lab visits or medical appointments to record the same information

Disadvantages of eHealth

Financial Burden -electronic health record systems can be quite costly depending on the vendor and type of system that is selected. Additional costs are rendered if the system needs to be altered or the vendor changed

Flow of patients – until the physicians and office staff become adept at using the system, the flow of patients can become slower while data is properly entered and read

Security – worry over systems being breached by hackers, confidentiality infringement or sharing causing violation of HIPAA laws is a real concern

Regardless of how you feel about eHealth adoption, these digital methods of practice are not in the future, nor even optional. They are here to stay and part of the ACA meaningful use.

Two Practical Options 

You have two choices- adopt or get left in the cold, which leads to your practice withering away, financial penalties from third-party payers and essentially forced retirement.

As a young doctor who has recently finished training, digital health is a way of life. As an older doctor, you may be pulled into the latest methods kicking and screaming. Either way, you are now going to be the biggest eHealth advocate and therefore assuring your medical practice the success it deserves!