"In the electronic world they know they can get it reliably. They will get it [because] we have systems in place so that even if the doctor doesn't release it in time, the system will automatically release it at a certain point. That's one of our fail-safe mechanisms," he says. "You can look at it as what we owe the patient or you can look at it as a patient safety issue, because it's not going to fall through the cracks."
There are signs that there will come a time when patient access to health records is the norm. Patients are not only used to accessing data—they're demanding it. "They're using information they can glean off the Web right now; I think if we make more information that's pertinent to them available they will use it more effectively and they'll achieve better outcomes," Tang says. "That's the end goal, here."
The PHR will benefit outcomes by delivering healthcare that is personalized and appropriate for each individual, Tang says. "By partnering with patients we'll be more effective in dealing with diabetes, heart failure, coronary disease" and other chronic conditions.
Tang, who is also a vice chair of the federal HIT Policy Committee, says engaged patients and families will have a "big payoff" as the population of Medicare-eligible patients rises. Many say that engaging caregivers—those family members or friends who are often volunteering their time to care for their loved ones—will help ease the impact the aging population will have on the healthcare industry.
"We will need to partner with patients and their families in order to address the health needs of aging baby boomers," Tang says.