One of the "five pillars" of meaningful use is to engage patients and their families in electronic health data. The stage one requirements of the HITECH Act, already in place, include the relatively simple tasks of sharing discharge instructions and providing patient education—electronically or by printing out the information from the patient's electronic health record. But it's clear that in future stages hospitals will be required to do much more, such as using remote monitoring devices and communicating with patients electronically to help them manage chronic conditions and to intervene before they require emergency care.
But engaging patients and families with electronic health data isn't just about HITECH requirements and stimulus money—it's also a way to foster collaborative decision-making between provider and patient, which, in turn, improves the patient experience, leads to better outcomes, and can reduce readmissions.
Americans pay more attention and become more engaged in their health and medical care when they have easy access to their health information online, according to a 2010 California HealthCare Foundation survey. For example, patients who use a personal health record say they take steps to improve their own health, know more about their healthcare, and ask their doctors questions they say they would not otherwise have asked.
But even though PHR use has doubled since 2009, consumer adoption is still low—just 7%, according to the national CHCF survey. The questions facing the healthcare industry are how best to get those numbers up and whose job it is to do so.
"We need to find better ways to tap into the skills of the consumer. There's hardly anyone more motivated to manage their own health or that of a family member," says Donna DuLong, RN, cochair of the American Health Information Management Association's Personal Health Information Practice Council. "The trick is finding the right tools and helping educate them and raise awareness."