Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mom's guide to better and cheaper health

by Peter Yellowlees

Mom's organize most family healthcare in this country. Women of today bear the bulk of the caring load, and tend to have responsibility for not only their own, but their husbands and their children's health. Frequently they also care for other members of extended families, their parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, and sometimes even nieces and nephews. This is often a very time-consuming and complicated task that may lead to women giving up personal interests and opportunities, and not infrequently dropping out of the workforce, to become full time extended family carers. This leads to difficulties as women are more stretched than ever before, especially in this economic recession, where their work incomes are often essential to keep their family afloat, yet they still have to spend considerable amounts of time and energy arranging family care. The bottom line is that caring for families, and in particular extended families, is not only an increasingly time-consuming issue for today's women, but also an expensive one.

Everyone talks about how expensive healthcare is, yet few people have started to really look at how it could be cheaper for patients. Many of the costs of healthcare are the result of inefficient practices that arise from a system that has not been focused on patients, and has just assumed that patients will travel from one clinic to the next, from one lab to another, and from home to hospital. Most doctor's practices and health systems try and save money for themselves, but not for patients, and often they actually make more money by being inefficient because patients end up having more consultations and repeat tests than are really necessary, and paying for them. There are now many ways that the internet can be used to improve your health, and at the same time to save both time and money, and to therefore ultimately make healthcare cheaper for everyone. This is something that every mom needs to think about.

As a practicing physician I often advise my patients on a number of ways that they can use the Internet to improve their own healthcare, while at the same time working more closely with their usual doctor.

Broadly these approaches can be described in four simple steps. In brief they are:

1. Learn about how to use the internet for your healthcare. Read about the many different ways that the internet is now changing the practice of healthcare, from the implementation of electronic records and e-prescribing, to emailing your doctor and getting your lab results online.

2. Check out your doctor, and any other health providers, to make sure that they are appropriately expert and qualified to provide your care - and that they can do this using the internet

3. Learn to work collaboratively with your doctor using internet based healthcare. Find out which of the many internet health possibilities can be used by you and your doctor, and use them. You will save a lot of time and money by obtaining your healthcare more efficiently and easily - often at the click of a mouse.

4. Check out your current treatment, and compare it with best practices and health guidelines that you can find on the internet. Learn how to search the internet for health information and how to work out which information is helpful and accurate, and which is not. Then consult with your doctor, and discuss any areas where you think improvements can be made.

It is important that people improve their health by working collaboratively online and face to face with their doctors, by learning how to search effectively for good quality health information, and by comparing their own current treatment with best practice guidelines available on the internet. Today's mom's have more challenges than any previous generation, and often have to juggle work roles and home duties, such as arranging family healthcare. It is now time for mom's to start changing healthcare by insisting that doctors use the many different options for healthcare that the internet has opened up.

This article is based on excerpts from the recently published book "Your Health in the Information Age - how you and your doctor can use the Internet to work together" by Peter Yellowlees MD. Available at http://www.InformationAgeHealth.com

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