Doctors talking to doctors

Doctors can also take advantage of technology to provide better care for their patients. One example is a virtual consultation that allows primary care doctors to get input from specialists when they have questions about your diagnosis or treatment.

The primary care doctor sends exam notes, history, test results, X-rays or other images to the specialist to review. The specialist may respond electronically, conduct a virtual appointment with you at your doctor's office, or request a face-to-face meeting.

These virtual consultations may prevent unnecessary in-person referrals to a specialist, reduce wait times for specialist input and eliminate unnecessary travel.

Personal health records

An electronic personal health record system — often called a PHR system — is a collection of information about your health that you control and maintain. A PHR app is accessible to you anytime via a web-enabled device, such as your computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

In an emergency, a personal health record can quickly give emergency personnel vital information, such as current diagnoses, medications, drug allergies and your doctor's contact information.

Personal health apps

A multitude of apps have been created to help consumers better organize their medical information in one secure place. These digital tools may help you:

  • Store personal health information.
  • Record vital signs.
  • Calculate and track caloric intake.
  • Schedule reminders for taking medicine.
  • Record physical activity, such as your daily step count.

The potential of telehealth

Technology has the potential to improve the quality of health care and to make it accessible to more people. Telehealth may provide opportunities to make health care more efficient, better coordinated and closer to home.

Research about telehealth is still relatively new, but it's growing. For example, a 2016 review of studies found that both telephone-based support and telemonitoring of vital signs of people with heart failure reduced the risk of death and hospitalization for heart failure and improved quality of life.

The limitations of telehealth

While telehealth has potential for better coordinated care, it also runs the risk of fragmenting health care. Fragmented care may lead to gaps in care, overuse of medical care, inappropriate use of medications, or unnecessary or overlapping care.

The potential benefits of telehealth services may be limited by other factors, such as the ability to pay for them. Insurance reimbursement for telehealth still varies by state and type of insurance. Also, some people who would benefit most from improved access to care may be limited because of regional internet availability or the cost of mobile devices.

Aug. 16, 2017 See more In-depth