Virtual House Calls now a click away at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare

Evanston 15 November 2004Evanston Northwestern Healthcare (ENH) is giving patients an unprecedented ability to handle their routine health care and access their medical records from the convenience of their own homes. It has launched a secure, on-line portal called ENHfirst, where patients not only have 24-hour access to their medical information, but they can ask their physician questions, schedule appointments, request prescription refills, get test results and pay bills without having to play telephone tag.


This free service, the first of its kind in Illinois and the most advanced among only a handful across the nation, is possible because ENH has accomplished what had never been done before: move all of its doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians and other professionals from paper patient records to electronic ones at three hospitals and 68 outpatient offices in about 18 months. Now, ENH is extending that state-of-the art electronic medical record system to its patients, leading to better physician-patient relationships and a more informed patient.

"ENHfirst actually can improve communication between patients and their doctors", noted Dr. David Lerner, an internal medicine physician who participated in ENH's pilot of the service this summer. "For example, if my patient forgot to ask a question during a visit, he or she can just follow up with me quickly and directly using this on-line access. I like getting the question in the patient's own words, rather than through the interpretation of the person who wrote down the message. It also saves me time by eliminating the phone tag that often goes on among a physician, staff and patients. I check my e-mail three to five times a day and will answer the patient's question on the same day whenever possible."

ENH anticipates that 10.000 patients will sign up for the free service by the end of 2005. Following a successful pilot programme with 450 patients this summer, all 90 ENH Medical Group internal and family medicine physicians in 18 ENH offices in suburban Chicago have begun offering on-line access to their patients. ENH plans to expand the electronic service to patients of ENH Medical Group obstetricians and paediatricians in the next few months.

ENHfirst is already attracting an enthusiastic following. "I love it. It's very simple to use, it's fast and it's very convenient", stated Fay Vogt, an ENH patient who was part of the pilot programme. "This eliminates going through automated voicemail where you press 1 for this and press 2 for that. And you're no longer tied to the house waiting for a return phone call. I was always afraid of leaving for fear my doctor would call me while I was gone and I would miss his call."

On-line access, of course, does not eliminate the need to speak to a physician. Doctors continue to call patients without Internet access, those who opt not to use the service and when patients receive test results that are not considered routine and require follow-up discussions or treatment.

"With this ground-breaking consumer service, our patients can now have easy access to their own health information whenever they need it", stated Jeffrey Hillebrand, chief operating officer for Evanston Northwestern Healthcare. "Patients are shouldering more of the costs of their health care, and studies show that electronic patient record systems can help control costs and improve quality. That is certainly our experience at ENH, and ENHfirst is another major step in helping our doctors deliver the best community-based medicine possible."

Patients enter the ENHfirst Web site found at They can choose between two levels of access, with capabilities ranging from registering for classes/events to the full list of six features including:

  • Review Your Health Record
  • Obtain Medical Advice On-line
  • Schedule Appointments Directly into the Physician's Calendar
  • Renew Prescriptions
  • Pay Bills On-line
  • Update Insurance Information

Unlike other systems where patients electronically request appointments and must wait for a response, ENHfirst's users can directly schedule and cancel appointments with physicians. In fact, it works much like an airline Web site, allowing the patient to view actual availability and book the time. A patient may schedule an appointment up to one year or as little as 24 hours in advance as well as review past and future appointments. Renewing prescriptions, paying bills and contacting the doctor are equally fast and easy, and secure. All medical information, including messaging with a physician, resides on a secure server and can't be intercepted like e-mail over the Internet.

Evanston Northwestern Healthcare is comprised of Evanston Hospital, Glenbrook Hospital, Highland Park Hospital, ENH Medical Group, ENH Foundation, ENH Home Services and ENH Research Institute. Nationally recognized, the health care organisation has been ranked by Solucient among the Top 15 Major Teaching Hospitals and Top 100 Hospitals nationally for nine consecutive years. SMG Marketing ranked it fifth among the nation's Top 100 Integrated Delivery Systems. The organisation provides care across a comprehensive range of services: physician offices, hospitals, home care and hospice. Through its affiliation with Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Evanston Northwestern Healthcare supports extensive medical education and research programmes. All attending physicians are faculty members at the medical school.

Leslie Versweyveld

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