Cindy Seikkula Peterson has reached that point in her life at which managing her family's health care takes more than an overstuffed file folder. With a newborn baby, her recovery from a caesarean section and her mom's high blood pressure on her mind, Seikkula Peterson, 41, monitors the family's prescriptions, immunizations, tests and doctor visits online using a service called WellMed. "Keeping track of everybody's health history in one spot, on the computer, makes it manageable," she says.
WellMed, at www.wellmed.com and at health portals including IntelliHealth.com and AllHealth.com is one of a few new, online health services that go beyond providing a place to research medical questions and news. The new services help users act on their research by tracking personal health histories, managing bills and claim forms, and communicating with physicians about prescriptions and other issues that might not be adequately addressed by the average doctor visit. Free to consumers, the services get their revenue in several ways, including charging employers and insurance companies for using the services. "These developments are very empowering to the health-care consumer," says Charles Inlander, president of the People's Medical Society, a health consumer-advocacy group in Allentown, Pa. "From the patient's point of view, we've been practicing medicine in this country as if it were the 19th century. Now we're skipping straight to the 21st." In fact, in an age when the consumer is king, health care remains the one industry in which customer service rarely extends beyond offering the patient an 800 number and a lollipop. But with the help of e-health--and with a consumer who abides by some smart rules of online health-care management (see box)--the plight of the patient saddled with frustration and inconvenience may finally be addressed.
WellMed is designed for anyone who has ever answered the question "When was your last tetanus shot?" with a sheepish shrug. Registration and setup are about a 10-minute process (more if you have a lengthy medical history), in which you provide information about your emergency contacts, allergies, blood type and primary-care doctor and are assigned a log-in name and password. WellMed organizes the data into what it calls your WellRecord. This doesn't replace your physician's record, but it becomes your personal storage and communication tool. Doctors, far-flung family members, insurance companies and laboratories can also get access to your health records if they are registered on the site and granted permission by you on your account-options page.
For most users, the service will simply be a convenience, like Quicken, the software that allows you to manage your finances in one spot. But in some cases, it can be a lifesaver. One WellMed service is designed to handle emergencies when the patient can't. An information card that users keep in their wallet prompts medical personnel to call WellMed, which then verifies the health facility's authenticity and makes the patient's history available.