Network connects doctors, patients
BY SHANNON MUCHMORE World Staff Writer
Monday, October 03, 2011
10/03/11 at 8:00 AM
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There are rays of hope in the fight to get Oklahomans better access to health care.
Growing technology, changing politics and increased awareness are all bringing people together to find new and more efficient ways to make the sick healthier.
In May 2010, a Tulsa-based group received a federal grant of more than $12 million to establish a health information network that would connect doctors, patients, insurance companies and hospitals.
Patients' records could be transferred easily from hospital to hospital and doctors in rural areas could communicate with specialists in cities.
For example, a primary care physician could have a patient who asks about a skin growth. The doctor can go online and enter a description of the problem, and a skin specialist will be able to say whether the patient needs a follow-up appointment.
This saves time for the doctors and the patient, which ultimately saves money as well.
Doctors in rural areas can be connected to other doctors for consults. Patients who frequent the emergency room can be identified and given better preventive care. Data can be analyzed to see what symptoms should be of most concern when found in the same patient.
Dr. David Adelson, a dermatologist at University of Oklahoma Family Medicine Center in Tulsa, is using Doc2Doc, the program that allows for online consultations.
The system gives him the chance to triage cases and lets him focus on being a specialist, he said.
It does add time to his workday, but it's worth it, he said.
"I think we have a responsibility to work smarter, and Doc2Doc is one tool," he said.
In a pilot program, Doc2Doc reduced personal visits to specialists by 52 percent, according to OU.
Other telemedicine techniques such as video conferencing have been successful, but doctors are limited through this approach and it can be difficult to establish a rapport with a patient, said Dr. Kayse Shrum, provost for the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.
The MyHealth Access Network, a program of the Greater Tulsa Health Access Network, is a nonprofit organization that seeks to join health-care providers through health information exchanges and other information technology. It was the recipient of the federal grant and has been working to implement the technological efforts to improve patient care.
The idea is to decrease urgent care needs as well as the overall cost per patient by identifying high-cost and frequent users of the health-care system. Then technology can be used to predict problems or provide targeted preventive techniques, said David Kendrick, CEO of MyHealth and Kaiser Chair of Community Medicine at the OU School of Community Medicine.
"It's helping providers understand who their sickest patients are," he said.
Some doctors are wary of electronic medical records at all, arguing that they take extra time and can actually decrease efficiency.
"There are so many moving pieces, it's hard to say," Shrum said.
Earlier this year, Gov. Mary Fallin returned a $54 million grant that would have helped establish a health insurance exchange, which is a website for consumers to compare insurance plans. Fallin said the state shouldn't accept the money because it was a part of federal health-care reform, which she opposes.
Kendrick said medical residents today don't want to join a practice that doesn't use electronic medical records, and using them will improve health care overall.
He admits the systems won't work without dedicated doctors, though.
"This thing doesn't practice medicine," he said. "This thing doesn't see patients."
Original Print Headline: Online network connects doctors, patients
Shannon Muchmore 918-581-8378
Dr. David Adelson, a dermatologist at the University of Oklahoma Family Medicine Center, discusses an online program that allows doctors to consult with specialists. ADAM WISNESKI / Tulsa World