I'll be the first to admit it, I was a bit put off when the receptionist said, "You need to call back the day you'd like to see the doctor." With such short notice would I even get to see my new family doctor, or would I be triaged to one of his colleagues? Given the highly computerized nature of his practice, would I spend my day filling out forms? Or, worse yet, would the doctor be so focused on data entry that he'd lose sight of me, the patient?
Yes, in spite of my professional experience with the value of electronic health records, I was personally skeptical of what they look like in practice.
What I found instead? Shorter waits and better service: in the waiting room, in the exam room, in the pharmacy and for test results.
Here's how one visit dispelled a few of my own long-standing health care myths.
Myth #1: It takes weeks to get an appointment with a good doctor.
Given the opportunity, I was willing to put same-day scheduling to the test. I called in the morning and, lo and behold, got an appointment that afternoon -- with my own doctor. There had to be some sort of catch. An epic stay in the waiting room, perhaps?
Myth #2: You will be kept waiting.
No, my name was called within five minutes of checking in at the reception window. When I made it to the exam room, I was never alone for more than two minutes. The entire appointment took less than half an hour -- and most of the time was spent directly with my doctor.
Myth #3: You'll spend the visit filling out forms.
Not so! I never filled out a paper history form. Instead, the staff used my EHR to quickly confirm my personal history, purpose of my visit, allergies and medications. When a medical assistant took my vital signs with electronic instruments, the results were not manually entered but automatically transferred to my EHR. Amazing!
Myth #4: Your doctor will be so focused on data he'll forget about you.
When my doctor arrived, we had a friendly exchange. He had his laptop open, but he looked me in the eye over the screen and spoke directly to me. Since the medical assistant had already documented the purpose of my visit (I had requested an allergy medication refill, an update of my cholesterol and PSA tests and a referral to a dermatologist), he ordered my lab tests and Flonase prescription on his laptop.
Instead of giving me a referral to a dermatologist, he offered to check me for skin cancer right then. After a quick but thorough exam, he explained several freckles and bumps and reassured me that I didn't have anything to be concerned about.
Before he left the room, he asked, "Is there anything I've missed?" And I remembered that I had never received the results of my colonoscopy from a year ago. Again he checked his laptop -- everything had been normal and a ten-year follow-up was recommended. He added that I could see my colonoscopy report at any time on their portal, as well as my lab results once they came in.
This 10-minute conversation gave me confidence in my health and my doctor, provided the care I needed and answered a question I'd had for over a year. But it didn't end there.
Myth #5: It's hard to get information once you leave the doctor's office.
As soon as I arrived home, the pharmacy called to let me know the status of my Flonase prescription.
The next morning I found a couple of emails in my inbox. The first included a link to the doctor's note from our visit on the practice's portal. The second included a link to my lab results -- yes, already! I compared these results with those from an earlier set of tests, also on the portal, and was happy to see that my cholesterol was back in the normal range.
My doctor later explained that Sonora Quest Laboratories feeds results directly from their system into the practice's EHR, a change that saves days or even weeks in getting test results to patients.
This experience gives me hope, not only for my own interaction with the health system, but for changes being made across the system. To be clear, it takes a provider time -- a year or two if they're really working at it -- to see the substantial benefits EHR technology can produce.
At a time when many are asking whether ubiquitous EHRs and interoperability are worth requiring, the answers will be found in the experiences of individual patients and their clinicians