If you were following the local health news last week, you may have read about Alberta’s patient health portal, which will be accessible from your home computer in the near future. For those who are unfamiliar with the lingo, a patient health portal allows electronic access to personal health information.
Doctors already have access to patient information through the province-wide eHealth network, but until now patients have been out of this loop. Using eHealth, my doctors have immediate access to test results and reports from other physicians involved in my care. For example, when I visited last week, Dr. Blood knew precisely why Dr. Family was concerned about my uric acid levels.
The patient portal will be a bit different than the physicians’ version, however. Each jurisdiction determines what health information it will allow patients access to. Our health portal will allow Albertans access to test results–I can track my cholesterol level or see how my blood test results have fared over time–and to on-line appointment booking. From what I’ve read, I won’t have access to doctors’ interpretations of my test findings, which I believe are the most valuable part of any health record.
Is a patient health portal a good or a bad thing? It depends on who you ask. Access to this health information is intended to empower patients, but will Albertans’ portal have this effect? Many patients feel online access to our health information is long overdue. But we have had access to this information for years, just not on line. I can already ask my physicians to see anything in my medical file. Physicians are required by law to provide patients with any document they request.
The value of Alberta’s health portal depends primarily on the information therein. Initially, the accessible information will be restricted, although I imagine more and more information will be available electronically to patients over time.
I worry, as an anxious person and as a psychologist, that not all patients are equipped to deal with this medical information, and that access to it may raise undue anxiety. I for one am glad I’ve had years of being sick before the introduction of the portal because I don’t anticipate becoming overwhelmed with what I see. Were I a newly diagnosed sickie, I might feel differently.
For example, I have a limited understanding of the findings of my blood test results. I’ve gleaned over time that wide variations in certain blood tests are sometimes of concern and sometimes not. Elevations in some tests are worrisome while very low counts in other tests are problematic. Because my knowledge is elementary, I fall back on my doctors to interpret the results for me.
In its current form, the patient health portal will provide me a new way of frittering away time on the internet and not much else. I will become increasingly interested as the portal evolves and its accessible information broadens. But you won’t catch me asking Dr. Google what the numbers mean; I’ll continue to go to my physicians with my queries, as I always have. Call me old fashioned, but my docs have excelled at addressing my concerns thus far.