If I can book a flight online, why not a doctor's appointment?

Jill Overmyer

Chances are, you probably do a number of things online -- from shopping to paying bills to ordering pizza. Now, patients are turning to the Internet to manage their health care as well.

What you can do online

There are plenty of health care-related tasks you can perform online, and a number of emerging programs as well. Most of these tasks are performed through patient portals, which are secure databases offered by health care providers that store patients' medical information online. A few ways you can manage health care online through websites and patient portals include:

  • Booking appointments. More than one-third of patients surveyed in a study by the Center for Studying Health System Change in 2007 reported that they went without health care because they couldn't get an appointment soon enough. Websites like ZocDoc.com (which serves Chicago, Dallas, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.) let you find a doctor or dentist and book an online appointment immediately. You can search by ZIP code, specialty or insurance plan and, in many cases, find same-day appointments.
  • Viewing records. Electronic health records are growing in popularity. Many of these programs, depending on your health care provider's security settings and permissions, allow patients to view their lab or test results online. Cleveland Clinic's MyChart program, for example, allows patients to view current medications and test results released by their physicians.
  • Refill prescriptions. Some health care providers' online portals, including Cleveland Clinic's MyChart, let you refill prescriptions online without having to call the pharmacy. When you need a doctor to call in your prescription, you can request it through the portal as well.
  • Ask medical questions. Virtual office visits let patients ask their doctors questions and, in some cases, even get a diagnosis online if a physical exam is not required, according to an article published by the American Academy of Family Physicians. E-visits, although growing in popularity, remain fairly uncommon.

Benefits of online health care management

Taking your health care online can have a number of benefits, such as:

  • Faster care. Tdhe ability to ask questions, make appointments and refill prescriptions online means not having to wait for days to see a doctor. In addition, you might be able to access test results faster than you would otherwise.
  • Convenience. Online health management is convenient, allowing users to perform routine tasks from home, like paying bills and making appointments.
Safety. Some might have concerns with protecting the safety of their medical records and identities online. However, patient portals have security measures in place, similar to online banking, and must fully comply with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).