E-Patient Update: Using Digital Health For Collaborative Medication Management

Posted on June 1, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Recently, I had a medical visit which brought home the gap between how doctors and patients approach to medications. While the physician and his staff seemed focused on updating a checklist of meds, I wanted med education and a chance to ask in-depth self-management questions. And though digital health tools and services could help me achieve these goals, they didn’t seem to be on the medical group’s radar.

At this visit, as I waited to see the doctor, a nurse entered with a laptop on a cart. Consulting her screen, she read off my medication list and item by item, asked me to confirm whether I took the given medication. Then, she asked me to supply the name and dosage of any drugs that weren’t included on the list. Given that I have a few chronic conditions, and take as many as a dozen meds a day, this was an awkward exercise. But I complied as best I could. When a physician saw me later, we discussed only the medication he planned to add to the mix.

While I felt quite comfortable with both the nurse and doctor, I wasn’t satisfied with the way the medication list update was handled. At best, the process was clumsy, and at worst, it might have passed over important information on drug history, interactions and compliance. Also, at least for me, discussing medications was difficult without being able to see the list.

But at least in theory, digital health technology could go a long way toward addressing these issues. For example:

  • If one is available, the practice could use a medication management app which syncs with the EMR it uses. That way, clinicians could see my updates and ask questions as appropriate.
  • Alternatively, the patient should have the opportunity to review their medication list while waiting to be seen, perhaps by using a specialized patient login for an EMR portal. This could be done using a laptop or tablet on a cart similar to what clinicians use.
  • When reviewing their medication list, patients could select medications about which they have questions, delete medications they no longer take and enter meds they’ve started since their last visit.
  • At least for complex cases, patients should have an opportunity to do a telehealth consult with a pharmacist if requested. This would be especially helpful prior to adding new drugs to a patient’s regimen. (I don’t know if such services exist but my interest in them stands.)

To me, using digital health options to help patients manage their meds makes tremendous sense. Now that such tools are available, physicians can loop patients into the med management discussion without having to spend a lot of extra time or money. What’s more, collaboration helps patients manage their own care more effectively over the long term, which will be critical under value-based care. But it may not be easy to convince them that this is a good idea.

Unfortunately, many physicians see sharing any form of patient data as a loss of control. After all, in the past a chart was for doctors, not patients, and in my experience, that dynamic has carried over into the digital world. I have struggled against this — in part by simply asking to look at the EMR screen — but my sense is that many clinicians are afraid I’ll see something untoward, misinterpret a data point or engage in some other form of mischief.

Still, I have vowed to take better control of my medications, and I’m going to ask every physician that treats me to consider digital med management tools. I need them to know that this is what I need. Let’s see if I get anywhere!