In charge of your health

TECH SAVVY: Dr Andrew Miller is looking towards an online future that will give patients a more cohesive experience in the health system.
TECH SAVVY: Dr Andrew Miller is looking towards an online future that will give patients a more cohesive experience in the health system.

A Whangarei GP is leading the charge towards a future that will give patients more control of their health, via the internet.

Dr Andrew Miller, of Bush Road Medical Centre, is one of seven chosen ambassadors of ''patient portals'' nationwide, despite being initially sceptical of the extent of their benefits.

''Manage My Health'' will allow patients to book appointments, request repeat prescriptions and check test results online.

Dr Miller will be supporting other practices as they introduce the system in  coming months, as well as providing feedback to the National Health IT Board.

He says the software provides a level of convenience for  patients and practices and puts people back in charge of their health.

''Lots of patients are really interested in seeing how their results are tracking over time. We want people to get involved and feel like they're responsible.''

He says the system will be much safer than email, which most practices discourage people from using for security reasons.

The programme will be integrated into existing practice management systems, and will be flexible in terms of the features doctors and patients choose to use.

But Dr Miller  says there are potential problems, particularly in terms of patients who may be excluded by the move towards online.

''Older people are actually very computer savvy. But there's a possible exclusion of those who are socio-economically deprived.  We don't want to improve services just for the 'worried well' while excluding those who don't have access to transport or communication tools.''

Minister of Health Tony Ryall says it is hoped at least half of general practices in the country will offer a patient portal by the end of the year. Primecare Medical Centre in Kensington is also planning to introduce the system.

Northland District Health Board GP liaison officer Dr Dianne Davis says the key with patient portals is to start simple.

''Things like e-consultations will be looked at down the track when we're all feeling a bit more comfortable in this space. It's a big learning curve.''

 Manaia Health PHO chief executive Chris Farrelly says Northland has a history of leading the way in terms of online health initiatives, as it was the first region to successfully introduce the e-referral system five years ago.

The e-referral system allows doctors to refer patients directly to a specialist via a secure network, and has been extremely successful, he says.

Dr Miller says  patient portals will be useful but the real ''game changer'' will be software that allows GPs, specialists, patients and other elected providers to communicate under one cohesive system.

It is hoped such software will be trialled in Northland in the next three to six months.