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ONC Seeks to Shift Attitudes on Consumer Access to Health Data

September 16, 2011
by David Raths
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Slogan of consumer e-health push: ‘Putting the I in Health IT’

Goal No. 4 of the federal Health Information Technology Strategic Plan is to “empower individuals with health IT to improve their health and the health care system.”

Yet many provider organizations have pushed back against meaningful use requirements to establish patient portals to share data, arguing that the pace of change is too rapid. During a Sept. 16 National eHealth Collaborative webinar, Lygeia Ricciardi, senior policy advisor for consumer eHealth at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, outlined ONC’s recently launched campaign to help consumers get more out of health IT.

Ricciardi said that although patient engagement has been baked into meaningful use efforts from the beginning, the launch of a consumer eHealth program is new for ONC. “This is a big deal for ONC, but it is consistent with the plans of the National Quality Strategy released earlier this year,” she said, and with health reform more generally. “As the system is restructured, consumers are going to have to be more engaged in care,” she added.

Ricciardi described the realm of consumer health IT tools as vast, including personal health records, remote monitoring devices, and wireless pedometers. They may also include online communities to share tips ideas and emotional support toward meeting health goals. She said ONC would focus its efforts on three areas: access, action, and attitudes.

First, it would like providers and others in the health field to go beyond what is technically and legally required to make it easier for consumers to access their health data. It has created a voluntary program through which organizations pledge to empower individuals to be partners in their health through health IT. Forty organizations, ranging from the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME) to the American Nurses Association, have taken the pledge.

Once consumers have access to their data, they need tools to help make sense of it all, she added. Through grant programs, ONC is encouraging the development of applications in that space.

Finally, Ricciardi said consumers have to develop an attitude that it is OK to ask their physicians for access to their information and to collaborate with their doctors. “That hasn’t always been the mindset, and it needs to change,” she said. Consumers should feel free to ask their physicians if they are using electronic health records and e-prescribing.

Although ONC is launching a consumer eHealth initiative, she stressed it isn’t a top-down approach. “We want to work with others in the private sector to catalyze a change that is already under way to help patients play a more active role in their care.”

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