Before internist-pediatrician Sal Volpe from Staten Island, NY, adopted an electronic health record system, vacations were tinged with dread of the first day back-and the mountain of paper charts on his desk. Most of them involved nonurgent matters like requests for prescription refills, routine or borderline lab results, and consult letters.
"It would take an extra two to three hours daily for several days to catch up," says Volpe. "It almost negated the rest that I got."
Now, Volpe minimizes the catch-up work-and stress-by connecting to his EHR on vacation. Using his laptop, he'll log into the program via the Internet to review incoming messages and clinical data. With a few clicks, he can renew a prescription, order a recheck of blood sugars, or instruct his nurse to schedule a patient.
When EHR software resides on a server in your office, connecting to records on the road requires some work, but not much. Volpe installed a program called WebEx PCNow on his server that makes it accessible via the Internet. A year of service costs $124.20. Similar do-it-yourself programs include pcAnywhere, LogMeIn, and GoToMyPC.
If you use Microsoft Windows XP Professional, you already have what you need, because the system comes with a Remote Desktop feature. However, because of its relative complexity, the average doctor probably will need to hire an IT pro for several hours to set it up, says healthcare IT consultant John Lubrano in Austin, TX. The same goes for virtual-private-network (VPN) software, which is deployed by itself or in tandem with another remote-access program to connect far-flung machines (it's called private because it encrypts data transmitted over the Internet).
Holiday doctoring isn't just about technology. You'll need to follow some ground rules that pertain to the human condition:
Sal Volpe makes an EHR compromise when he leaves town with his family. "It's a little bit of work during a time for relaxation to avoid a whole lot of work when you come back to the office.
"Just make sure you clear it with your spouse."