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I Was a Technophobe — Then I Got Tech-Savvy to Manage My Chronic Condition Better

Managing MS

February 07, 2024

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Photography by Azman Jaka/Getty Images

Photography by Azman Jaka/Getty Images

by Ashley Harris

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Medically Reviewed by:

Jenneh Rishe, RN

•••••

•••••

by Ashley Harris

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Jenneh Rishe, RN

•••••

•••••

I used to avoid anything tech-related at all costs. But eventually, my multiple sclerosis (MS) and other health needs necessitated setting up portals and using Zoom. Now, I can’t imagine managing my health without it.

I used to hate technology. I saw it as a necessary means to an end, but nothing more. In fact, I was the last of my friends to join Facebook, and I was the last to trade in my flip phone for a smartphone.

When I worked in an office for my marketing and writing jobs, I had the luxury of calling on our information technology (IT) team for any problems I experienced, whether they were related to hardware or software. So, I resisted trying to learn anything about technology.

In truth, I didn’t really hate it. I was just intimidated because I was never very good at technical subjects such as math or science. But when I retired in 2017, I still wanted to write, so I bought a laptop and a printer. I had to install my own software and set up the printer myself. I fumbled through it all, eventually learning more than I wanted to know about drivers and wireless connections. But it was a struggle.

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A portal to greater comfort with technology

Around 2020, when my doctors began encouraging me to create accounts or “portals” and use them to communicate, I scoffed at what I regarded as a time-sucking trend. Are you kidding? Dealing with medical issues such as MS is hard enough. Why complicate matters even more?

Eventually, my neurologist’s office started sending me emails asking me to check in remotely for my infusion treatments. I ignored these, too, because I still had to stand in line anyway to pay my copay and to schedule my next appointment. Why bother?

But in January 2023, when I arrived at my first infusion appointment of the year, I couldn’t even check in. I had to fill out a host of new forms first. The clerk smiled sheepishly. “You could have completed these online through your portal,” she said after handing me a clipboard with a thick sheath of paper forms.

Completing these forms in person took 15 minutes, and before my infusion, I had to stand in another line to submit my copayment. “I bet I could have done this online, too,” I said to the clerk. “Yep,” she said. “Through your portal.”

The extra time it took to fill out the forms and pay actually made me late for my infusion, an experience I did not want to repeat.

So, when I returned home that same day, I opened my laptop and grudgingly followed the directions in the email from my neurologist’s office to set up a personal portal. To my great relief, it took only a few minutes. All it required was the basics — name, address, birthdate, phone number, and email. While there were more fields for information, such as previous surgeries and family medical history, these were all optional, and I could fill them out at my convenience.

The extra time it took to fill out the forms and pay actually made me late for my infusion, an experience I did not want to repeat.

Creating my portal was a snap. After that, it was a breeze to check in early, as my personal information came up automatically through the link I received in a text on my phone, so all I had to do was verify my name and birthdate by clicking on a few buttons, and ta-da, I was all checked in!

I also learned that it’s easy to schedule appointments remotely. So now, if I finish my infusion but don’t feel like waiting in line to schedule my next one, I don’t sweat it. I can make follow-up appointments from the convenience of my home without calling and waiting for an available agent. Instead, I log in to my portal and simply click on a link labeled “Schedule an Appointment” and choose my preferred date and time from a list on a drop-down calendar.

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Ensuring no insurance surprises

In the middle of the year, I changed insurance. Yet again, I received emails asking me to set up an online account with my new insurance company. I hesitated, but when I saw that I could receive notifications about my claims, view records of my expenses, and see my progress toward meeting my deductible, I signed up, this time with much less trepidation.

Having an online account made it very easy to plan for health costs throughout the year. I now had a record of how long it would take me to meet my deductible each year under normal circumstances (about 12 infusions per year) and how much I would need to contribute for unusual services ordered by my doctor, such as CT scans, MRIs, and special blood tests.

I also appreciated the fact that an online version of my insurance card is always available through this account should I ever lose my hard copy.

New health challenges, new tech benefits

When I was diagnosed with a new condition — chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) — in the spring of 2023, the portal I set up for my new hematologist’s office provided not only convenience but peace of mind.

Although I soon learned that CLL is highly treatable if detected early, I had a million questions, even after my in-person appointments with my doctor. However, he encouraged me to send him messages through my portal at any time, and he responded to each of my questions within 24 hours, which went a long way toward allaying my fears.

Another benefit of using a patient portal is that test results are usually posted as soon as they are available.

When I was diagnosed with a new condition, my doctor encouraged me to send him messages through my portal at any time, and he responded to each of my questions within 24 hours, which went a long way toward allaying my fears.

For example, my general physician and I are currently monitoring an increase in my cholesterol. After a recent morning blood draw, I was able to view the results in my portal by 8:00 p.m. that very evening simply by clicking on a link labeled “Test Results.” This helps me feel better prepared to talk to my doctor about them when we meet next.

Notes from the radiologists who interpreted my recent MRI and CT scans were also posted in my patient portal, and I was able to refer to these notes when communicating with my hematologist about my CLL.

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Zooming toward better health

Because I live over an hour away from my neurologist, we often hold our appointments via video conferencing through the video platform Zoom, which I access through my smartphone.

Using Zoom the first time turned out to be very simple because I didn’t need to download anything to my phone. All I had to do was click the link that my neuro’s office sent to me in a text, and after just a few seconds, my neurologist and I were face-to-face. Meeting within the convenience of my home also saves gas, travel time, and energy.

Top tips for embracing technology

Are you interested in tapping into the power of technology to help manage your health? If so, here are some tips to help you get connected with ease.

Take your time

As the old saying goes, you don’t have to conquer Rome in a day. If your doctor’s office offers you the opportunity to set up a patient portal, take it one step at a time. First, follow the directions they send you to set up a username and a strong password.

You don’t need to enter your portal and explore it right away. But when you do log in, take your time to poke around and check out the convenient features available to you. You don’t need to take advantage of all of them right away. Just focus on the ones that benefit you the most.

Store your passwords in a safe and convenient location

Because I have several patient portals, I keep my usernames and passwords for each one written down in a notebook near where I keep my laptop.

You can also take advantage of apps and online services that offer password generation and secure password storage.

Ask for help

If you ever have any trouble creating or accessing your patient portals or video conferencing links, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctors’ offices for help. They usually have a person on staff who manages technology and can walk you through the steps to fix any issues you experience.

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The takeaway

Healthwise, the past year has been challenging, to say the least. But technology has helped me navigate the ups and downs with surprising ease. The use of patient portals, email, a smartphone, and video conferencing has helped me feel more in control and more engaged in decisions about my health.

I have also learned much more about technology, and I’m no longer intimidated because it’s become a regular presence in my medical life.

Medically reviewed on February 07, 2024


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About the author

Ashley Harris

Ashley Harris lives in southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina, surrounded by the mystical Uwharrie Mountains. She writes about gardening, exercise, self-care, and life with MS. She has also written for Real Simple, Wired, and The Independent and authored a poetry collection, Waiting for the Wood Thrush (Finishing Line Press 2019). She’s currently working on a memoir of linked essays exploring love, faith, and serenity while living with multiple sclerosis. For more, you can visit her website.

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