ONC Working To Align Patient Engagement With Health IT


In a Health Affairs perspective piece, officials from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT described their goals for aligning the patient engagement movement with consumer-focused health IT, Government Health IT reports.

The perspective piece was written by Lygeia Ricciardi -- director of ONC's Office of Consumer eHealth -- as well as National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari and other ONC leaders.

The officials wrote that patients who use electronic health tools tend to be more engaged in managing their care. Such patients also tend to be better at finding the best quality and most cost-effective care, the officials wrote.

How Patients Are Using Health IT

Certain patient populations increasingly are using consumer health tools, according to the ONC officials. For example:

  • Patients with chronic health conditions increasingly are using online patient forums, as well as mobile health tools like medication management applications;
  • Medicare beneficiaries increasingly are using mobile and online apps to access their health information; and
  • Some elderly U.S. residents are using personal health record tools.

Plans To Align Patient Engagement, Health IT

The perspective piece stated that health IT and mobile technologies have "created ideal conditions" for the growth of patient engagement technologies. However, the ONC officials acknowledged that a major hurdle hindering greater use of consumer health tools is a lack of access.

To address such challenges, ONC plans to:

  • Take steps to expand access to personal health technologies;
  • Promote a shift toward a more collaborative partnership between patients and their health care providers; and
  • Use the meaningful use program to boost awareness of patients' ability to request electronic access to their health data.

Under the 2009 federal economic stimulus package, health care providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health record systems can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments.

The ONC officials wrote that patients "need to feel comfortable requesting electronic access to their health records, asking providers questions, sharing their own health knowledge and weighing in on treatment options." They added, "A cultural shift -- among patients and providers -- is necessary to support these kinds of behavior" (Brino, Government Health IT, 2/5).

Study Finds Patient Engagement Could Curb Costs

In related news, a study published in the February edition of Health Affairs found that patients' knowledge about their treatment options and the confidence with which they manage their health care could affect their health care spending.

The study used 2010 data from medical bills and surveys conducted by Fairview Health Services.

It found that projected health care costs were 8% lower among patients who ranked as being most confident and knowledgeable about their health care compared with those who ranked as being the least confident and knowledgeable about their health care (Evans, Modern Healthcare, 2/4).

Mark Ragusa
The reality is that improving health outcomes involves changing patient behavior: taking medications, attending follow-up appointments, adhering to a diet and exercise plan. These are areas where mobile technologies are naturally strong. Mobile apps and devices are becoming part of modern care plans. Healthcare providers that ignore patient-facing mobile solutions will become less relevant to patients. Bottom Line: The rapid rate of mobile health adoption reflects the convenience and utility inherent in mobile apps and devices. Health systems have an opportunity to meet patients where they are increasingly turning for health management: mobile devices. This is patient engagement at its most powerful. Engaged patients will increasingly drive a health system's success. Today that means HCAHPS and readmissions. Tomorrow that means population health and ACOs. Smart health systems understand that and are investing in mobile.

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