The future of health care might rest in the palm of your hand.
That future — a tablet computer — already sits the in hands of several Rome and Floyd County breast cancer patients. They’re part of the MyJourney Compass pilot program that allows them electronic access to health records on a device that can fit in their purses.
“It’s just cutting edge,” said Gena Agnew, president and CEO for the Northwest Georgia Regional Cancer Coalition. “We are breaking new ground here. It’s going to make such a huge impact.”
The Nexus 7 tablets with 7-inch screens enable patients to access their health records regardless of their location using applications, or “apps,” installed on the high-tech machines. It also removes the need for patients to carry stacks of paperwork. Reports related to their health care are literally at their fingertips.
Another first for the new technology is the ease with which patients can access their records from multiple health care providers such as Floyd Medical Center, Harbin Clinic and Redmond Regional Medical Center. In the past, someone would need to visit a facility in person to get copies of their records.
Now they push an icon on their tablet.
“It’s electronic and at your fingertips,” said Angie Mc Whorter, chief information officer of Harbin Clinic.
The MyJourney Compass program developed from discussions that began some three years ago, said Philip
Lamson, senior health care consultant at Georgia Tech and the project director for the program.
Lamson was then with the Georgia Cancer Coalition, and re-
searchers were examining the experiences breast cancer patients had with their treatment. The researchers discussed what gaps existed in that experience, and how they could be filled.
The cancer coalition and Georgia Department of Community Health then partnered with local health care contingent and applied for a $1.7 million federal grant, called the Consumer Mediated Health Information Exchange Challenge Grant, to create the patient-centered program.
“The project is funded by the federal government’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) through an award to the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH), which engaged Georgia Tech to coordinate the project. It is one of 10 Challenge Grants that were awarded nationally and one of two that address consumer engagement,” stated Kelly Gonzolez, chief of DCH’s Division of Health Information Technology.
Agnew credits the ability of local health care providers to collaborate as one reason the community got the grant.
“They immediately thought of Rome, particularly because of our cooperative spirit among our health care facilities,” Agnew added.
Teams began to discuss the best way serve patients. Agnew said the group first thought patients would use desktop computers to access their records. They then changed their plan to laptop computers.
iPads cost close to $1,000 some two years ago when the team discussed what technology should be used, Lamson said. Prices have since dropped, which led to the choice of tablets for the program.
“Someone made the suggestion – what about tablets?” Lamson added. “They’re very portable.”
During those discussions the Georgia Cancer Coalition reorganized, Lamson said. Part of the former entity is now with the Georgia Research Alliance. Another part merged with Georgia Tech, where Lamson now directs the grant for MyJourney Compass.
One challenge with health records is the difficulty in getting them from one doctor to another in a different facility.
Health records and documents related to cancer can fill shelves in some cases. Carrying that much paperwork can prove daunting.
In FMC’s case, health records are kept at the hospital and are requested by the patient when he or she wants a copy, said Jeff Buda, chief information officer with the hospital.
“There’s a whole release-of-information process,” Buda added. “It wasn’t anything automatically being pushed to the patient.”
Redmond and Harbin Clinic have similar processes when patients want copies of their records. McWhorter said Harbin patients can log onto an online patient portal to access their records.
But that still required the patient to physically visit the other health care facilities he or she frequented or log onto their online portals to get all the documents.
The goal for local hospitals was to make their records available in an electronic format patients could access from their tablets.
“We all were working on how to provide the data to the patient,” McWhorter said.
That led the project group to Microsoft HealthVault, a cloud-based technology. In this case, the “cloud” means a patient’s records aren’t on his or her computer’s hard drive. Instead, they’re stored securely by Microsoft HealthVault, and can be accessed through the Internet on a MyJournal Compass tablet.
A patient can access the records on the tablet regardless of his or her location if they have an Internet connection, and then show those records to the appropriate health care provider or caregiver.
“By putting all this in the hands of the patient, they mediate where it goes,” Lamson said. “You’re making the patient the custodian of the information.”
Brad Treglown, Redmond director of information technology and services, said the tablets provide more access to patient records and speed up a patient’s ability to get those records.
“MyJourney is a work in progress,” Treglown said. “It’s developing something that’s not been done before.”
How it works
Cancer Navigators is a nonprofit group that helps cancer patients through their journey of treatment. In the case of the MyJourney Compass, breast cancer patients are introduced to the technology and asked if they want to participate, said Charlotte Atkins, Cancer Navigators’ executive director.
Those who show interest are connected with an education navigator. The patient is enrolled in the program, and trained to use the tablet and technology.
Cancer-related apps are installed on the tablet. They also get access to educational material that’s customized to their diagnosis, Atkins said.
“We’re able to sit down and do one-on-one training on the tablets,” she added.
The tablet’s apps perform various functions, such as providing access to health records and keeping track of their medication and appointments. There are also apps that let patients communicate with their health care providers and track their symptoms.
“Many patients say they feel OK when asked by a doctor,” Agnew said. “They won’t say, ‘at 3 p.m. I had bad pain. At 10 a.m. I felt OK.’ The symptom tracker app will show when those symptoms spike. It’s helping the patient put all that down and show the problems.”
Armed with that information, doctors can more accurately adjust a patient’s treatment and care plan.
Patients also can access CaringBridge, which provides a secure online connection where patients can find support. Games and a library app installed on the tablets give patients an outlet while waiting to see a doctor.
Lamson said he sees a patient’s control and responsibility over their health care as a possible solution to health problems.
“Patient engagement is critical in my mind,” Lamson said.
Dr. Matt Mumber, a radiation oncologist with Harbin Clinic and head of the hospital’s integrative oncology program, agrees.
“MyJourney Compass is a tool giving patients access to some of their health information and facilitating secure communication between them and their cancer care providers via mobile technology,” Mumber said.
Creating collaboration between health care providers and patient is key to Ann Hook, Redmond ’s oncology service line director.
“This initiative strives to use the latest technology to maximize collaboration among all care providers while empowering the most valuable partner, the patient,” she said. “Interoperability is a key ingredient to safe, effective patient care. Redmond is excited to be a part of creating a more patient-centric approach to oncology care.”