Patients now able to email VA hospital doctors
HOUSTON It's what we all would like the chance to do -- email your doctor! Now patients at one huge medical facility are now hitting 'send' instead of 'redial.' Jerry Perlow loves the new way he talks to his doctor by email. "Before it was calling, leaving a message hoping they called me back and never knowing whether the refill was done or not," said Jerry Perlow, who uses the DeBakey VA Medical Center new service. Now, if he needs a drug refill or has a question, he just e-mails. "This is faster, easier and more efficient for everybody," Perlow said. His doctor likes it as much as he does. "More quality time for me to actually reflect on what I'm doing for the patient," Debakey V.A. Primary Care Physician Dr. Ikedieze Chukwu said. Perlow has used the VA's secure messaging program half a dozen times. When he asks for an appointment, Carol Sparks, the nurse care manager, sets it up. She gets patient emails first. "Once an email comes in, I can immediately take a look at that message and decide who really needs to see that message," Sparks said. She can send it to one of 20 people who take care of Perlow. Usually it's his doctor. "It's been great because the patients don't have to cue to get their questions answered," Chukwu said. When asked for his test results by e-mail, he got them right back. It's not for emergencies, and patients are told it may take 48 hours to get an answer. But it's usually just a few hours. Dr Chukwu says the email actually becomes a good written reminder. "He's not sure of the instruction he goes back and looks at it again," he said. To keep the medical information private the patient gets a message alert in their regular email telling them to go to their secure messaging inbox and look for a note from a doctor or nurse. Since it began in January, about 750 patients at the Debakey VA Medical Center use it. But as the other 50,000 Houston patients learn it's available, it just might "go viral." The VA plans to expand its secure messaging program to clinics in six area towns this summer. The website for veterans who want to check it out is http://www.myhealth.va.gov/.