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HHS Kicks Off Patient Engagement Strategy

September 20, 2011
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Industry pledge program core in plan to liberate patient medical records

Last Friday, September 16, at a National eHealth Collaborative webinar, Lygeia Ricciardi, senior policy advisor for consumer eHealth, Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) laid out the government’s plans for engaging consumers in their healthcare. As the fourth goal in HHS’ new five-tiered strategic plan, ONC seeks to empower individuals with health IT to improve their care via PHRs and online communities.

“I just want to underscore the point that although, ONC is launching a consumer eHealth program, we really do not in any way see this as a top-down kind of initiative,” Ricciardi said. “What we really envision is working with you and others in the private sector and really capitalizing and supporting a change that is already underway.”

Ricciardi did a brief recap of what was covered at the Consumer Program Launch on September 12, which included Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sec. Kathleen Sebelius announcing several new programs: a proposed rule, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), that allows consumer access to their lab test results directly from labs; personal health record model privacy notice that will be “like nutritional information labels” for PHRs; and HHS’ new voluntary pledge program.

The pledge program will allow data holders like payers and providers, and non data holders like consumer organizations (e.g. AARP) to make a pledge to make it easier for patients to get electronic access to their medical records via Blue Button, a public-private partnership that sends patients a secure, readable version of their health records with the click of a button or Direct protocols. She says that more than 40 organizations have pledged so far.

The pledge program will be open for a minimum of six months and will culminate in a consumer track at Todd Park’s annual Health Data Initiative Forum held in June. “One of the things we’re planning to do with that is to highlight some of the success stories of organizations who have taken our pledge,” Ricciardi said. “We definitely want to leverage the pledge group program and highlight some of the good things that come out of it.”

Other initiatives HHS is planning to reach out to consumers include app challenges to encourage private sector app development and short health IT podcasts for consumers. Also three State HIE Challenge grantees have taken the pledge and develop core materials so that others can use them and build on them. “So the idea is to provide in a central location [to have a] core set of materials that everyone can use so you don’t have to go and reinvent the wheel,” Ricciardi said.