A doctor holds an electronic tablet.
It’s called the virtual world, but online health care services provide real results—and quickly. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Two new surveys of 1,000 American adults and 1,000 Canadian adults show that consumers prefer to manage their health and health care from their mobile devices rather than a doctor’s office.

But consumers also say technology hasn’t quite caught up with their desires.

For example, 26 percent have refilled a prescription on their smartphone at least once, but 62 percent would like to do so.

Seventeen percent have emailed their doctor from their phone, but 59 percent would like to email their doctor exclusively from their phone.

In reality, many consumers have access to the digital health technologies they desire, but just don’t know it yet, health experts said.

Spectrum Health Now

Patients in Michigan, for instance, can visit a doctor almost immediately—wherever they are, on their own device—through Spectrum Health Now, an on-demand health care service.

Someone with any one of about 20 low-acuity ailments—cough, cold, flu, sinus problems, rashes, digestive issues and such—can schedule a virtual appointment 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, said Joe Brennan, one of the creators of Spectrum Health Now.

For someone who wants to see a doctor immediately, the average wait time is just 15 minutes.

“A big differentiator in our service is these services are open to anyone in the state of Michigan,” including non-Spectrum Health patients, Brennan said. “And we’ll even send the patient’s after-visit notes to their primary care physician, regardless of who they are. The objective is to provide the best care possible.”

Spectrum Health Now, which began in 2014, served its 10,000th patient in August.

In addition to treating low-acuity ailments, the service also offers virtual appointments with lactation consultants to help new mothers with breastfeeding.

But virtual appointments aren’t the only digital health technologies that 21st century consumers can enjoy.

MyHealth

In 2012, Spectrum Health unveiled an improved app called MyHealth, which allows patients to send secure, direct messages to their doctors and quickly look up prescription information.

Users can also view lab results and oversee health care matters involving a spouse or child.

“One of the most popular tools is viewing lab results,” said Kristin Hanks, who oversees digital product experience at Spectrum Health. “Users get a message they have new lab results, then they can go right into their MyHealth account and review them, sometimes even before their physician reviews them.”

It provides total transparency to the patient.

Being able to send direct messages to doctors and nurses has also led to faster response times, Hanks said.

These conveniences make life easier for patients.

“A lot of time, when you’re trying to remember your prescriptions, you’re already standing in line at the pharmacy,” Hanks said. “Now you can just look that information up on your phone.”

With certain permissions activated, a tool called Shared Access allows a person to view prescription and medical information of a spouse or child, said Mark Welscott, who oversees digital product development for Spectrum Health.

“That’s kind of a big feature if you’re caring for other folks, or if you’re kind of the primary medical coordinator in the family,” Welscott said.

The service gives the family’s busy coordinator the ability to easily refill prescriptions and schedule appointments.

Earlier this year, Spectrum Health integrated Priority Health insurance information into the system. This lets MyHealth users see benefits, deductibles, plan documents, claims and other essential information at the push of a button.

Future Innovations

Ever wondered what a doctor wrote about you during your appointment or after your visit?

In the next six months, Spectrum Health plans to unveil an open-notes program that allows patients to see the notes a physician wrote during or after a visit, Welscott said.

2015 study by George Washington University and the University of Oregon showed that when patients were engaged in managing and tracking their health care, they became healthier—and health care costs plummeted as much as 31 percent.

These sorts of results are behind Spectrum Health’s push for more transparency, Welscott said.

“We’ll be the first health system in the state that would be providing open notes to their patients,” he said.

MyHealth also hopes to add trend charts to each patient’s test results page, Hanks said.

Instead of seeing only your blood-sugar or cholesterol levels from the most recent lab work, for example, you could see how those numbers have trended over time based on all your tests.

Spectrum Health also plans to expand and improve Spectrum Health Now, the on-demand, virtual doctor appointments.

Brennan envisions a not-too-distant future where you could have an appointment on your smartphone with not just any provider, but your preferred provider.

That is, using your smartphone, you’d be able to meet with your primary care physician, “as opposed to someone whose full-time job is seeing Spectrum Health Now patients,” Welscott said.

Beyond addressing low-acuity ailments like the flu and sinus problems, Spectrum Health Now could possibly be used in other areas that don’t require in-person tests, Brennan said.

Behavioral health visits come to mind.

“There is no physical exam,” Brennan said. “So when we can bring behavioral health into the home on a patient’s mobile device, that will just open up access to places where we desperately need it.”