Bring your phone with you to all your medical appointments

You should bring your phone to your next medical appointment. And you should use it while with your doctor and nurse, typing during the appointment.

I realised this a few weeks ago when I was quite ill which meant several visits to several doctors. My own GP, at first, and then when things got worse, the out of hours GP team for our area. Things got worse still, so I saw my hospital specialist. (I am fine now, by the way, interesting infections are my children’s contribution to my health.) The out of hours GP team did send a copy of the consultation to my GP the following day, but on the night I saw them, they did not have the records from GP. So they had to rely on me to tell them what works and what does not work. And when I saw my hospital doctor, they did not have a copy of the out of hours GP consultation, so I had to tell them what happened. And by the time I next see my GP, he will not know… you get the idea.

This time, I did something different. When the out of hours GP wrote up my notes, I asked for the print-out and took a photograph of it using my phone.I also took my own notes by typing an e-mail to myself. When I got home, I uploaded the photograph to the “Files” tab in my Patients Know Best account. As of today, the new “Diary” tab is also available in Patients Know Best, so I can add the notes I took into there.

When I saw my hospital doctor, I had the photographed letter ready. I could accurately tell my history, as well as the GP’s examination findings.

The hospital’s notes are on paper, so I just took my own notes by typing. The blood results came back and were important, but three different computers did not have a printer connected. I felt embarassed about taking up my doctor’s time asking for the print-out on a fourth computer, so instead I asked him to bring up the results on the computer screen, and took a photograph of the computer screen. Also as of today, the new “Tests” tab means I can enter those results myself into Patients Know Best, and attach the photograph as proof in case someone needs to double-check.

And finally, I took a photograph of the x-ray on the computer screen.

So, using my phone, I had a complete record of my encounters. I mentioned this to some patients at one of our user groups, and instantly they got the importance. They were mostly wheelchair-bound, and felt awkward about asking their doctors for their records. But they all had the latest smartphones with high quality cameras, so this was a great way to start transferring their records with minimum inconvenience for clinicians.

Now, a few thoughts before you try this. First, although most clinics have signs banning mobile phones, these signs are unnecessary and unfair. The UK’s Department of Health’s 2009 guidance on mobile phones says the following:

It therefore considers that the working presumption should be that patients will be allowed the widest possible use of mobile phones in hospitals, including on wards… The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) does not advise that NHS trusts should operate a hospital-wide ban but has said that in certain circumstances the electromagnetic interference from mobile phones can interfere with some devices, particularly if used within 2 metres of such devices.

So you are entitled to use your phone in most places, and in fact all the doctors and nurses are already carrying their own phones, except in sensitive wards like cardiology ones.

But a bit of politeness is probably what you need rather than quoting the technicalities and legalities. Explain to your doctor or nurse that you really need your phone to take notes about what they tell you, so you can tell your family after you get home. When you do type, remind them you are typing what they are saying rather than texting someone else or playing a game. And when you ask for a photograph, say that you know it will not be perfect, but it is better to have one than to have none, and that you do not want to waste their time on letters or reports. So a quick photograph is what you need.

Finally, you are probably thinking: why should I have to go home to upload my phone’s photos into Patients Know Best? Why can I not do it with an app on the phone? And to that I say… stay tuned.

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