The increasing digitization of health care has ushered in a wide array of technological options, pushing patients to read up on them and make good choices. Here’s what the experts say:
● Be a wise consumer. You wouldn’t buy a car without reading the reviews and making sure it’s safe. “Patients should use the same approach with health technologies,” said Enid Montague, an assistant professor of engineering and medicine at Northwestern University.
● Tinker and experiment. It’s a good idea to test technology that interests you to discover what “helps you feel in control of your health or a disease or condition that you may have,” said Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician and author of “Mama Doc Medicine” and the Seattle Mama Doc blog. Find the tools that make sense for your life. Maybe you’ll like wearable devices such as watches that help you track your health or maybe you’ll find they’re not for you, she said.
● Go with trusted sources for advice. If you’re wondering if an app or device is really useful, check with your provider or with well-known organizations, said Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health information technology in the Department of Health and Human Services. For example, someone wanting to know about an app for diabetes should look to the American Diabetes Association Web site or Web sites for organizations representing endocrinology or internal or family medicine. Networking communities can also be a good source for feedback.
● Think before you click “I agree” on that health app. DeSalvo advises that consumers “be really thoughtful” about what health information or personal data is required from them for a given app. Read very carefully about how your data is going to be used by those who operate the app.
● Be mindful when messaging your doctor. Use secure messaging to share information or to ask questions that don’t need an immediate reply, said Danny Sands, a primary care doctor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. An office visit or phone call is more appropriate for urgent, time-sensitive symptoms and for topics that take more than a few paragraphs to explain or that require much back-and-forth.
● Use your patient portal to prep for your next doctor visit. Look at your test results. Review notes after a visit. Know what your care plan is, Sands says, and you will be better able to make the best use of your next appointment.
● Ask for what you need. “Keep demanding what you want,” Swanson said. “As patients, we have to be really squeaky wheels.” If you see lab results in your health record that conflict with what you discussed with your doctor or need clarification about instructions for taking a medication, speak up. “If you’re ever concerned that something is going wrong, don’t ever hesitate to speak up and draw attention to it,” she said.
Medline Plus Health Topics: National Library of Medicine
Top 100 List: Health Websites You Can Trust: Medical Library Association
Consumer e-Health: Department of Health and Human Services