Center News Magazine: Online Portal Connects Patients with Treatment Teams

Friday, May 1, 2009

In addition to coping with a serious disease, cancer patients also must keep track of an array of details regarding their care. Memorial Sloan Kettering has now made this task easier by creating a private, personalized online link for patients to access this information and communicate with their physicians and nurses.

This patient portal, called MYMSKCC, allows patients to log on from a computer to review upcoming appointments, request prescription refills, check lab results, access educational materials, view hospital bills, and send and receive secure, nonurgent messages with medical staff involved in their care. The portal is available to adult patients treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Manhattan sites. Access is expected to expand to patients treated at MSKKC’s regional sites in the near future.

David R. Artz, Medical Director of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Information Systems (IS), said MYMSKCC was launched in the fall of 2006 in pilot form for a few departments and services. In April 2008, the portal was made available to more clinics and the registration process was streamlined. “When patients come in for treatment, they receive a printed sheet with all their appointment information,” said Dr. Artz, who has worked closely with IS Project Manager Laurie J. Ochs and IS Project Coordinator Diana Garcia to develop the portal. “At the bottom of that, we simply began placing information about how to log on.” Since that change, about 500 new patients have enrolled every month, bringing the total number to 7,117 by the end of March 2009.

The most heavily used section of MYMSKCC allows patients to check the time and location of upcoming appointments and reminds them about any preparation that may be required — such as not eating before a test, or drinking a contrast milkshake before an imaging procedure. Another widely used feature allows patients to exchange secure e-mails with physicians’ offices. Because all communication is contained on the site and messages are encrypted in both directions, there is no danger of a confidentiality breach, which might occur when patients send standard e-mails through commercial services.

It’s especially enhanced the relationship between patients and nurses, who manage most of the messages,” said Elizabeth S. Rodriguez, a nurse leader instrumental in the portal’s development and launch. “In the past, patients may have been reluctant to call because they were afraid of bothering anyone. Now they have more of an opportunity to ask the question, plus nurses get a better sense of what the patients’ needs are.

By the early summer, MYMSKCC will enable patients to access the results of more than 130 commonly ordered lab tests as soon as they are reported. Patients also will soon be able to pay their hospital bills and view account balances online.

Patients are definitely happy about this additional way to connect with us,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “It’s an entirely new level of care.