Where is the Consumer in Health IT?

On Monday, September 10, 2012, I listened in on the first few hours of the 2012 Consumer Health IT Summit: Expanding Access to Health Information. The program was streamed live on the HHS website. The information presented was pretty fascinating, but what impressed me most was the passion of the presenters. They were really excited about what they call the Blue Button.

Most of Monday’s session focused on increasing patient involvement in their health care through access to their health information, mostly by way of Blue Button technology. While there are many reasons for our healthcare system to move toward our medical records being entirely electronic and interoperable, one of the most important of those reasons is patient access. It is widely believed that engaging consumers in the process of their healthcare is essential to effective prevention and management of chronic health conditions. Unless we get chronic illnesses well-managed, we will never get control of healthcare costs.

This is an important arena for Behavioral Health. I went to the website of The National Council for Community Behavioral Health and did a quick search on “chronic illness and mental health” and came up with 762 documents that contained reference to those terms. Obviously, this is an area that has been written about a great deal. Approximately 78 percent of all health care spending is for individuals with chronic conditions.  There is a high co-occurrence of mental illness and substance use disorders and chronic physical health conditions.

Involving the consumer of healthcare services and their families in their treatment may go a long way toward controlling some of the costs involved. Having access to our medical records is just one way to assist in this process. Hence, the focus on the Blue Button.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has made patient access to their health data a priority. They have created a Pledge program whereby corporations and individuals can pledge to work to make patient health information available to them.

There are Two Types of Pledges. Data Holders, those who manage or maintain individually identifiable health data such as providers, hospitals, payers and pharmacies) would take this pledge:


We pledge to make it easier for individuals and their caregivers to have secure, timely, and electronic access to their health information. We further encourage individuals to use this information to improve their health and their care.


Non-Data Holders, that is folks

 who do not manage or maintain consumer health data, but have the ability to educate consumers about the importance of getting access to and using their health information (e.g., employers, consumer and disease-based organizations, health care associations, product developers) . . .


would pledge the following:

We pledge to engage and empower individuals to be partners in their health through information technology.

This is an interesting approach to involve as many people as possible in a process that is huge and will undoubtedly take many years to complete. In the spirit of sharing as much information as possible so we can all learn about our own healthcare information and find ways to gain access to it, I thought I would at least share some links with you.

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) maintains a website that contains a wealth of information about healthcare technology and events related to it. The goal of consumer involvement or putting the “I” in healthcare IT is the current focus at this site. If you would like to see the progress physicians and hospitals are making toward adopting electronic medical records, take a look at this dashboard. I am sure there are many other useful sites. I will do my best to share them as we all move forward with this process. Please share the ones you know about as well.

If your doctor had a patient portal for you to visit and have access to your health record, would you use it? Is this something that is important to you? Do you use a Personal Health Record now? Please let us know what you think about this whole move toward patient involvement in and responsibility for their healthcare and using Electronic Medical Records to help it happen.


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