About a year ago, during my first routine physical since the start of the pandemic, my GP noted that my blood pressure had spiked considerably over its circa-September 2019 level. There were many possible reasons for this, ranging from the expected (pandemics are not calming) to the even more expected (you try working while two young kids conduct a bathtub reenactment of the sinking of the Spanish Armada).
The sudden increase was enough of a concern to Dr. F that he sent me to a cardiologist, who ordered a battery of follow-up exams. He also told me to buy an at-home blood pressure monitor and take my reading twice a day, then send him the results after two weeks.
I followed his directions to a T and, 14 days later, called his office to ask for an email or portal address that would allow me to share my data. The person on the other end of the line responded with a 10-digit number.
My verbatim response: Come again?
In a tone that made it clear she’d had this conversation several hundred times previously, she told me the practice only accepts information in paper-based formats. The digits were for the office’s fax machine.
Now, I am very capable of printing out a PDF and mailing a letter. If pressed, I could execute the MacGyver-like feat of transmitting a fax. And clearly, convenient data portability didn’t rank among anyone’s most pressing health-related concerns during June 2021.
But at that moment, my indignation (and privilege) was such that I couldn’t shake the thought that the U.S. system makes being a patient harder than it has to be. What I should’ve focused on, beyond the fact that I am fortunate to have access to a broad range of healthcare, were the myriad ways the patient experience has improved — and I’d argue that, 10 years from now, we’ll look back at the pandemic as a precipitating event. This issue details how patients have more and better options for treatment of mental health conditions than ever before, how marketers and researchers have worked together to accommodate families dealing with a rare disease and how online patient communities provide vital emotional and logistical support, even as some observers worry about their fate in the metaverse era.
Ultimately, I was fine; apparently the ability to write half-intelligently about health-related issues doesn’t correlate with an ability to accurately self-measure one’s blood pressure. It’s the best time in human history to be a patient, full stop. Now, please figure out a way to diagnose my son’s middle-ear infections from afar. Thanks in advance.