Should Caregivers Use Online Health Care?
The Caring Generation® – Episode 149 September 7, 2022. Should caregivers use online health care? Caregiving expert Pamela D Wilson shares how patient portals can save time and simplify medical care for elderly parents and their caregivers.
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Should caregivers use online health care? Learn how patient portals can save time and simplify medical care for elderly parents and their caregivers.
Should Caregivers Use Online Health Care?
Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel
As you might realize, online health care is a big category of information that extends from using an online portal at your doctor’s office to using advanced medical technology like continuous glucose monitors for persons with type 1 diabetes that communicates with a program on a smartphone that communicates with an insulin pump while providing reports to family members and your doctor about blood sugar readings and insulin doses.
Why do patients and their caregivers hesitate or delay using online health care? What are the different types of uses for online health care, including the benefits, pros, and cons—and what about big brother and online health care? What is the impact of health care providers sharing your information?
Can this information exchange be helpful for you if you are in an accident or emergency and need medical care? Should caregivers use online health care?
Let’s start with reasons caregivers and the elderly might not want to use the Internet to share personal health information. Number one is the obvious concern of privacy.
The Internet and Privacy Concerns
Do you have a social media account on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest, or TikTok? If so, you share personal information all over the Internet.
Has the online information you shared prevented you from being considered for a job, a loan, or anything else? Deciding what information to share online affects your life in more ways than you might imagine.
When you think about health care portals, electronic medical records, and health information exchanges that also use the Internet, these are more secure than social media sites. Caregivers and patients ask whether the government can access health care information if I join a portal or participate in online health care programs.
The answer is yes. The government has focused on creating electronic healthcare records and health information exchanges for many years. So if you receive services from Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, or other social service organizations, or if you have signed up for a patient portal, your information is accessible.
How Consumers Give Access to Personal Information
When you think about the security of personal information, consumers take many actions that require providing personal information. For example, you probably file income taxes yearly, or at least you should.
You provide personal information if you apply for a loan or credit card. The company where you work has your information on file, just like your doctor’s office or medical center.
So to put the question, should caregivers use online health care in perspective, think about using an online medical portal as another system, like all the others you use, that offers convenience and other benefits.
Another reason why caregivers don’t use online health care could be no or slow Internet speed. While Internet access continues to improve, there may be gaps in coverage if you live in a rural area or if you have Internet, it may not be fast enough.
Then besides Internet access is access to technology. To use online health care, participants need a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone to use online health care programs.
Participating in Online Health Care
Even still, if you can get past the privacy concern, Internet speed, and have a tech device, there is the factor of learning how to use and participate in online health care. The COVID pandemic has fast-forwarded online health care.
Before COVID, one had to drive to the doctor’s office for an in-person appointment. During COVID, insurance plans approved virtual video appointments.
Now, after COVID making appointments online and attending virtual appointments are the norm unless you have a new or serious health condition. If you participated and joined your physician’s health portal before COVID, you might notice that the portal has more information and features.
Additionally, if some physicians did not have online portals before COVID, now almost all medical providers are making progress in offering a portal. So to answer the question, should caregivers use online health care?
The answer is that if you don’t participate in online health care, you will spend a lot of unnecessary time and effort getting medical care for yourself or an elderly parent.
Online Health Care Portals and Online Banking Comparisons
Think of online health care as similar to online bill paying, banking, or transferring money. I know a lot of elderly adults who don’t trust online banking. They want to continue receiving bank statements by mail and paying bills by check because this is comfortable and the way it’s always been for them.
If you are the caregiver for a parent who continues to pay bills manually, you may try to convince your mom or dad that online banking is safe. But, whether we like it or not, technology is advancing in all areas of life.
Technology Tracks Consumer Usage
It’s true, that the government, banking systems, health care, and many other industries and companies have and store consumer information. For example, cameras on the traffic light poles record your movements if you live in a city and walk or drive a car.
Your smartphone tracks your daily movements, from when you wake up to when you go to bed. First, you set the alarm and wake up. Then, you use Uber or Lyft for transportation to get to work.
If you go to the gym, you may have a keycard or an app on your phone that allows you access. Cellphone towers track your movement if you are driving.
If you are on a toll road, you pay a fee, the camera takes a photo of your license plates, or you have an auto-pay transponder on your car. Then, you go to work and clock in or use a keycard to the building for access.
There are few things we do that don’t have automatic systems for tracking by technology. Google tracks everything you do online, and each website you visit places cookies on your computer. The way around this is to continually clear browsing data on your devices.
How Online Health Care Simplifies Caregiver Work
Admittedly technology makes our lives easier. So why shouldn’t caregivers use online health care programs to simplify caring for elderly parents and loved ones?
After all, caregivers are overwhelmed with everything that has to be done. So why not streamline managing health care for an aging parent, spouse, or grandparent?
Let’s move to the next part of answering the question should caregivers use online health care. Health care use depends on the users—you and those you care for that could be your children and aging parents.
By signing up for online health care, which means gaining access to the health care portal at your doctor’s office, you begin creating a health care record that can save a lot of time, effort, and money.
Here’s how. You, your children, or a parent receives a vaccination. These are then entered into the system so that future reminders for boosters can be provided if necessary.
Proof of vaccination information exists electronically if your children’s school or workplace needs confirmation. In addition, information from an annual checkup, including bloodwork, weight, and vital signs like blood pressure, temperature, etc., are on file to compare the data with future visits.
Monitoring Health Changes Over Time
Through this historical data and comparisons, a doctor can identify changes in health to recommend treatment or a change in lifestyle habits. In addition, having access to health care information online allows you more control over your health and well-being.
If you are a family caregiver, an elderly parent may have a health condition like high blood pressure to manage, or mom and dad may have multiple health conditions. An online health care account makes tracking health conditions and prescribed medications easier.
And if you’ve tried to get help with a healthcare issue and weren’t successful, you know that it’s not always easy. America’s healthcare system favors care for the young while older adults like your parents can struggle to get care.
Learn how to create an emergency medical plan for elderly parents on Episode 147 of The Caring Generation Podcasts.
Then, in the event of an accident or a health emergency—like when an elderly parent goes to the emergency room—health history can be accessible to the doctors at the hospital.
Additionally using electronic health records by reviewing the follow-ups suggested after a hospitalization can avoid a parent returning to the hospital for the same concern.
Let’s talk about the ongoing benefits of the use of online health care information and medical portals
- You have access to medical information at your fingertips if you have access to a tech device and the Internet.
- Information on the portal can be printed, downloaded, and shared with your family members.
- You can request and make appointments online depending on the system used by the doctor’s office. Some medical portals allow subscribers to choose the day and time of an appointment online. For others, you can send a message to request appointment options.
If you have ever called a doctor’s office, been put on hold, and then been disconnected while waiting to schedule an appointment, you know this is frustrating. Use online health care portals to minimize scheduling stress.
Online Communication With Medical Offices
Online health care portals make it easy to communicate with your doctor and medical staff if you want to share information or ask a question. However, it’s important to understand that your doctor probably receives hundreds of messages weekly. So the person answering your question, if not your doctor, should identify themselves.
Online health care portals also make it easy to receive test results for x-rays and imaging, bloodwork, and so on. In many cases, the results are posted to the health care portal before the doctor has had an opportunity to review them.
So it’s essential not to search the Internet, find information, and believe your test results indicate bad news. Instead, give your physician time to review the information and respond. Send an email reminder if you don’t receive an update within a week.
Portal Information Accuracy, Bill Paying, Deductibles, Co-Pays, and More
Access to an online health care portal also allows patients to confirm the accuracy of the information on the health care portal, like prescriptions and supplements or changes in health insurance plans. While you may not be able to update this information manually, you can send a message to request an update.
Paying medical bills, in some cases, can also be done through an online health portal. But remember, if you need to negotiate special payment terms, it’s best to call the billing office directly to make arrangements.
And if you haven’t created an online account with your health insurer, I recommend taking this step. You will be able to see information about insurance deductibles and co-pays.
Explanation of benefits statements (EOBS) will be accessible online for each of your medical appointments and pharmacy charges so that you can make sure this information is accurate. While access to an online health care portal might seem to create more work, having an account gives you control over information.
To this, add an online account for your local pharmacy. Accounts at providers like Walgreens, CVS, and others can make it easier to automate prescription refills and pay for and pick up prescriptions.
If it’s time for the annual flu or another vaccine, you can schedule the appointment and complete paperwork online, which will save you time standing in line at the pharmacy.
Online Health Care Portal Privacy Features
As you can see from these examples, the use of online health care can save time. However, if you are a person who isn’t tech savvy, ask your children or a friend to help you set up an account and create a place to save your login and password information.
Many medical portals now have an online system to verify that it’s you signing into your account to protect your privacy. If you don’t save your tech device as a trusted source, the program will require a code that can be sent to you by text or email to confirm that it’s you desiring access to the account.
This additional step for verification is a practical safeguard, primarily if other people use your computer or if you access information from a shared community device.
Too Much Screen Time Vs. 1:1 Attention?
One aspect of electronic medical records that older adults don’t like is the decrease in face-to-face conversations with doctors. When I took elderly clients to doctor appointments, they would express concern that the doctor was talking with them but typing into a computer.
Online Health care means more screen time versus more personalized attention. Someone has to input the visit notes—usually the provider, who is the doctor, medical assistant, nurse practitioner, or nurse.
Let’s talk about a significant part of the visit notes from medical appointments. In addition to a diagnosis code for the appointment that the doctor has to enter so that your insurance company reimburses for the visit—notes about health discussions are entered into the records.
Documentation in Health Records
When the doctor makes a health recommendation, this information is documented. In addition, information that the caregiver and patient provide is added to the patient notes.
So if you accompany an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment, be as specific in describing changes in health condition. Depending on the health condition of a parent, you may be tracking blood pressure, temperature, physical activity, weight loss or gain, or other measures that can be helpful for the doctor.
Also important to note is that refusals of treatments or medications are also documented. So if the doctor makes a recommendation, be sure to give the reason that you or an elderly parent don’t want to follow treatment recommendations or take a specific medication.
If explanations are not documented, and this type of response continues with the patient’s health worsening, refusals can be considered problematic. This means that other doctors seeing the caregiver or their parent may not be proactive in making recommendations because of past care refusals.
Learn how to plan ahead to make medical appointments effective in this article from Pamela.
Gaps in Patient Education
In my experience, persons viewed as difficult patients are not really difficult. In most cases, the gap in not following or refusing to follow a doctor’s recommendations is a lack of patient education about a disease, treatment, or consequences of not participating in care.
In my years as a care manager, guardian, and medical power of attorney, I was the balancing factor between doctors and my elderly clients, who healthcare providers might have viewed as too time-consuming, complex, or problematic.
Doctors may not communicate information in words that patients understand, or the patients may have questions but be too afraid to ask. These communication gaps can result in poor patient care or patients feeling like the doctor doesn’t care about them.
Stand-A-Lone or Healthcare System Portals
Why should caregivers use online healthcare? Depending on the primary care physician’s practice, the online healthcare portal may be a standalone system, or the doctor may be part of a healthcare system.
Examples of healthcare systems include Kaiser Permanente, HCA, Common Spirit, Ascension Health, Trinity Health, and the Veterans Association. If you register for the medical portal with a healthcare system, then all of the doctors, specialists, hospitals, and other providers in the system share healthcare records.
As the caregiver or patient, you can review the records on file with each doctor. You can also be part of a healthcare system but see a doctor outside of the system.
Doctors operating independently of healthcare systems may have their own online health programs. So it’s possible to have access to and manage information in multiple health care portals.
Health Information Exchanges (HIE)
For example, if your state has a health information network known by the abbreviation HIE, then it’s possible that doctors in different practices can still gain access to your health records. But how would you know? The best way to know is to ask or to sign a form giving your doctor’s office permission to request records from other providers.
In many cases, the paperwork that you complete when you attend a doctor appointment may have a form for information sharing that you sign but don’t read thoroughly. If you are curious whether your state has an HIE—health information network, I’ll put a link in the show transcript where you can research this information and learn more about health IT.
Health information exchanges are an initiative of the U.S. Government to make information sharing easier. Medicare and Medicaid also launched an electronic health record incentive program.
Additional Support May Be Available Through Income-Based Health Care Programs
Income-based programs like Medicaid often have additional support programs that case managers coordinate. If you are a caregiver of an elderly parent on Medicare and Medicaid and aren’t familiar with other programs that might be available, search for the name of the case manager assigned to your parent.
By contacting this person, you can learn about other services that might be helpful for you and your parent. If you are a caregiver wondering if your parent qualifies for Medicaid—which is a program that supports low-income elderly—contact your county office of Aging Services or the county department of human services.
One of these offices will be able to direct you to the organization that manages the Medicaid program. In addition, in some states, case managers at the Health Information Network or through the Medicaid program provide additional support to assist with transportation to medical appointments, access to food, and other social service programs.
When in doubt about available programs, don’t be afraid to ask. While some programs require that paperwork or applications be submitted, the effort to apply is well worth the support an elderly parent can receive.
Advocating for Better Health Care
Part of using online health care programs is learning to use the programs and becoming an advocate for yourself or the person you care for. Some online health care programs allow individuals to view all available programs, including communication between various agencies offering assistance.
Being proactive to use online health care portals can help caregivers help elderly parents manage their health and remain out of the hospital. And if you, as the caregiver, use an online portal to manage your health, then you are more likely to do the same to help elderly parents manage their care.
The last topic I want to mention regarding HIEs, health information exchanges, is that the information, in many cases, crosses state boundaries. So if you or a loved one travels, becomes injured or ill, and goes to the hospital, it’s possible that the provider you see can access your healthcare information if you participate in online portals.
Using online health care portals ensures that you or elderly loved ones can get care services from various organizations regardless of where you live or travel.
Sign Up For Your Online Health Care Portal
So, suppose you are a young caregiver and don’t yet have a relationship with a primary care provider. In that case, it’s time to establish yourself with a medical practice so that you have a system to receive health care support in the event of an unexpected illness or accident.
Don’t be the caregiver who neglects your health while caring for others, or you will eventually be the person who needs care.
If your elderly parent or the person you care for is not set up on an online health care portal for the doctor’s office, call the practice and inquire about registering.
Sometimes portals exist, and unless patients or their caregivers ask, the office assumes you are already established on the portal.
Becoming aware of how medical practice portals work and how to access electronic medical records will help you manage your care and support elderly parents and others to get the care they need from the medical system.
Looking For Help Caring for Elderly Parents? Find the Information, Including Step-by-Step Processes, in Pamela’s Online Program
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