With technology impacting nearly every aspect of our lives, one critically important area remains immune to change: the relationship between patients and their medical records. If you’re like most Americans, you've likely never seen your complete medical record and don't know the process to access it. How can patients be expected to take responsibility for their health when the information they need is scattered between primary care offices, pharmacies, imaging centers, and hospitals?
There are two major roadblocks impeding patient-centered healthcare. The first is merely an access issue, as our fragmented health system makes it difficult to access and store medical information all in one place. The second is that health data is not presented in a format that is understandable to and usable by patients. This leaves patients poorly informed and unable to take ownership and responsibility for their health.
The challenge of health data interoperability is one that has been well recognized since the advent of electronic health records, or EHRs. To address this problem, the United States government enacted the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009 to promote the meaningful use of interoperable health records to improve patient care. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid have supported this effort by providing financial incentives to hospitals and providers that adhere to these policies. The latest set of policies, known as Meaningful Use Stage 3, will take full effect in 2018 and require that providers share health data in a standardized manner to applications authorized by patients.
Allowing patients to take ownership over their healthcare, with access being the very first step, should be an overarching goal of policymakers and business executives alike. By taking advantage of new health data standardizations, individuals' electronic health records (EHR) will be more easily aggregated and stored.
This may sound like something far in the future of healthcare, but it is already within reach. Many EHR systems across the country, including Epic and Cerner, are already adhering to the Meaningful Use policies that permit the exchange of standardized health information. These technologies are likely the first of many that will use automated processes to organize and store health data. The goal, however, is the same: empowering patients to take control of their healthcare and improve their quality of life.
Another example of private sector innovation is evidenced by 1upHealth, a Boston-based company aimed at improving access to your electronic health records. The health data stored in their application is updated automatically after each new doctor’s visit, test result, or hospitalization, so that patients consistently have access to their most updated health information. Their app allows patients to connect and store data from wearable health devices, such as Fitbit and Google Fit. And this data can now be integrated into a patient health record and used to help ensure health and prevent chronic disease.
Better informed patients who are prepared to take ownership of their health are a benefit to society as a whole. The sharing of health data has the potential to simplify healthcare, empower patients, and cut healthcare costs. But the real focus is on patients. It’s your health, your data, and your decision.