Google, Microsoft, now Amazon?

Call it the commercialization of healthcare online. First it was Microsoft Health Vault and Google Health offering personal health record (PHR) solutions for consumers. Now Internet pundits are saying the healthcare industry should look to Internet giants Amazon for ideas on how to bring healthcare into the 21st century. Anna Maria Virzi, writing on the ClickZ network, says that patients should have access to information about their health records in the same way UPS or Amazon tracks package deliveries.

“A doctor’s follow up communications with a patient – though not exactly marketing – are all part of a customer feedback loop that can help keep a patient and her family informed to make better choices about continuing care,” she writes.

She cites the example of Group Health Co-operative, a Seattle-based managed care organisation. Patients there were first given the opportunity to contact physicians by e-mail about eight years ago and by 2008, “nearly all of the organization’s 850 physicians communicate with patients online; physicians respond to 97 percent of the queries by or before the next day.

“First and foremost, this is to take better care of patients,” associate medical director Matt Handley said. “It saves a patient in-person visits. It leaves a record for patients to access, and it indirectly improves access [to a physician].” He said it was “much safer than paper records.” 

“Once patients realized the benefits of e-visits, Group Health Cooperative promoted the initiative in advertisements.

“But, Group Health patients won’t find any ads popping up in the clinical messages they receive from physicians. ‘There is no spamming, no promotional messages to patients through our electronic medical records,’ Dr. Handley said.

“Group Health professionals say the retention rate was 6.5 percent higher for enrollees who used the digital health record system than those who didn’t. ‘Two-thirds of the patients say this is a very important thing to them when they think about where to get their healthcare,’ Dr. Handley said. ‘It’s hard to give this up.’