Bill Nicholson has a heart problem. He loves not going to the doctor.
If those two sentences sound contradictory, understand that Bill, 43, (not his real name) is an enthusiastic user of patient portals - where he can access vital health information without having to make as many visits.
Patient portals are a secure, online way to help people manage and keep track of their health 24/7. They are increasingly being offered by general practices around New Zealand - and can be compared to online banking, but for health.
There are currently about 330 general practices with patient portals being used by over 136,000 New Zealanders. The Ministry of Health has set up an online map showing which GPs have portals.
Depending on what each GP has included, a patient portal can be used to book appointments, access medical history, check lab results and view medical records. Repeat prescriptions can be requested or the GP reached by email. All the patient has to do is to ask the GP about registering and devise a secure username and password.
Bill's situation is typical of many. He is a busy man, a consultant in IT with many clients, one of those people the news media often label "time-poor", and a busy parent with an active family.
He has an irregular heartbeat which needs medication and monitoring. So he has to have tests - but can now get the results and other information through the patient portal.
"It's great because I am a busy man. My health is important but sometimes I get so busy, I just don't have the time to go to the doctor; there are days when, even when I've made an appointment, things get busy and I just can't make it.
"I need to spend some time with my kids too - and the portal never closes so I can make an appointment or access my information any time," he says. "That's better than ringing a busy reception, making an appointment, travelling to the doctor's surgery and then sitting in the waiting room queue.
"I go in every now and then to have a check-up. The surgery used to ring back with the results but now I can see them on the portal - and I really like being able to access my information. My medical history is there and I can ask my doctor a quick question or use the portal for repeat prescriptions and for making appointments."
Bill also says, like many who use a portal, having direct access to his information somehow gives him a greater investment in his own health. He says it makes him take more of an interest; he can scan his data and can bring something to the attention of the doctor if he thinks it necessary.
It's the same for Margaret Dickson (also not her real name) of Wellington, who recently discovered she had high blood sugar levels through her patient portal.
"I was really surprised to see my blood sugar at pre-diabetic levels," she says. "I wish I'd known earlier so I could have made changes then - but now I do know, I have increased my exercise and am being more careful about what I eat.
"Seeing the results online just makes it a bit more 'in your face'. I think you get more motivated and think, 'I can do something to change this'.
People with heart disease, diabetes, asthma or any condition requiring regular contact with doctors are also finding the portal extremely useful.
However, what Bill and Margaret are also doing - without even realising it - is dipping a toe into a whole new medical future where being able to view health data electronically is an explosive growth area, forever changing the way doctors and patients interact.
In the future, it's envisaged health care will also include apps and devices which can send vital data to physicians over the internet to ensure any early warning signs are detected and recognised. The patient portal is clearly a part of a connected future - and is growing in popularity here as busy people and parents realise they have a health tool saving valuable time.
It works for doctors too. Some portals allow patients to access their doctor's notes. The number of practices offering that on their portal is growing, suggesting a future with a much more transparent and open doctor-patient relationship.
For more information see https://patientportals.co.nz/