BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The phrase "seeing the doctor" doesn't have the same meaning it did 10 years ago. Technology has opened up a whole new frontier, and Louisiana is leading the charge to get more patients and doctors online.
"I can say 10:15 on this day and schedule it," Melanie Forstall Lemoine said while glancing at her iPhone. She's able to schedule an appointment with her pediatrician with just a few taps of her finger.
"I know that when 8 o'clock phone lines open, I'm one of many moms trying to call in to get those morning appointments," she said.
Dr. Shelley Martin at the Baton Rouge Clinic encourages her patients to connect online. She's able to care for Lemoine's children outside of the exam room. William recently developed an ear infection at the beach.
"I actually took a picture of the ear, and I emailed it to Dr. Martin," Lemoine recalled. "Within about maybe three hours, she and I had communicated more than once I had communicated with her nurse, we had established a treatment plan, I had directions for the prescription, and I did all of that essentially from our balcony at our condo."
It's called a 'patient portal,' and they're popping up at hospitals and clinics around the state. It's part of a new push by the Department of Health and Hospitals and Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum to establish a health infrastructure.
"Louisiana is the first state in the country to do a direct-to-consumer campaign about health IT and how it can help them improve their outcomes and become more engaged in their care," said Cindy Munn, CEO of the Quality Forum.
The not-for-profit group was formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina after state officials realized health information was not available for many evacuees. It's tasked with improving health care across Louisiana.
The current campaign focuses on a website: MakeMyHealth.me. Consumers can find information on accessing their electronic medical records through a secure statewide database, as well as a guide to patient portals like the app at the Baton Rouge Clinic. Some portals are tied into the state database, while others are run privately by various providers.
The Louisiana Health Information Exchange (LaHIE) is the database that allows hospitals and doctors around the state to share information seamlessly, cutting out redundant paperwork and speeding up treatment. The system depends on the cooperation of providers, and to date, 240 hospitals, clinics, school-based systems, and home health companies have agreed to join the network. Not all are actually exchanging data, but the state hopes they will be soon. If your doctor is not yet online, ask them when they will be.
"Technology has evolved so much over the last few years," Munn explained. "You see it in banking, you see it in shopping. Healthcare is late in the game, but things are moving very, very fast now."
For Lemoine, it's more than convenience. It's peace of mind knowing her doctor is a click away.
"Having the app makes a huge difference in being able to get our children care, especially when they're not feeling well," she said.
The Quality Forum reminds patients that access to personal medical records – either electronic or paper form – is a right. Ask your doctor how you can get yours.