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Giving Patients Meaningful Health Data

Healthcare providers aren't the only ones trying to achieve meaningful use of health IT. Patients are also increasingly looking to use electronic tools meaningfully for managing and tracking their own healthcare.
Healthcare providers aren't the only ones trying to achieve meaningful use of health IT. Patients are also increasingly looking to use electronic tools meaningfully for managing and tracking their own healthcare.The use of online personal health records, like Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health for assembling and storing personal medical information are catching on. Same for patient portals offered by some healthcare providers that give patients the ability to schedule appointments online, electronically message their doctors, and check their lab results online.

Individuals who set up personal health records such as a Google Health account for themselves or for family members don't want the burden of entering information themselves; they want this data populated automatically and regularly. Many individuals who set up of PHRs also want to use the records in conjunction with portable fitness gadgets and medical devices that can help track chronic conditions like diabetes.

Players like Google Health are already recognizing this. Just last week the Google announced enhanced support for tracking of health and wellness, relationships with vendors of wellness devices and applications, and also additional healthcare data providers.

Google won't disclose the number of Google Health user accounts established so far, and "most use the PHR functionality for storing, organizing and sharing their medical records," said a Google spokeswoman in an email.

However, "we expect to see a broader base of new users coming to Google Health for tracking and managing their wellness metrics and goals, either alone or together with their traditional medical records," she said.

Meanwhile, as more healthcare providers roll out electronic health record and other related systems, it will become an necessity, not a frill, to provide patients with access to their data, whether that's done through patient portals, data importing relationships with e-personal health players like Google, or other methods.

That's because healthcare providers who want to cash in on the government's HITECH "meaningful use" financial incentive programs must provide patients with electronic copies of their information upon request within three business days.

Some healthcare providers already make it easy for patients to access their lab results and other information, schedule appointments, as well as message clinicians. For instance, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has been doing this for years though its PatientSite portal. BIDMC also imports clinical data to patient's Google and Microsoft Vault PHRs if they request.

Other healthcare provider are also making it easier for patients to access both financial information as well as clinical information via portals. That includes the ability for patients to pay bills via a portal or use a kiosk to check in when arriving at a facility for care, rather than filling out a clipboard of redundant paperwork.

NCR has "a good base of healthcare providers," including Adventist Health and Tenet Health, that have deployed its MediKiosk patient portal for self-service capabilities such as paying bills,said Ryan Sorrel, NCR healthcare channel director.

NCR's patient portal technology "can interface with all the IT systems relevant to patients," whether it's clinical information, billing systems, scheduling, he said. The portals will also become increasingly important to healthcare providers as they attempt to meet meaningful use guidelines, he predicts.

"Meaningful use is very provider focused, but engaging patients is a requirement," Sorrel said.

"There's a lot more traction building on the part of patients" in the expectation healthcare providers will offer electronic tools to help patients access and manage their healthcare, said Warren Oliver, a VP at the Center for Health Transformation, a consulting group founded by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Oliver predicts that growing numbers of Baby Boomers responsible for managing the healthcare of their children and aging parents, as well as incentives--such as lower co-pays offered by insurers for compliance to wellness and preventative care programs will have more individuals embracing health IT tools.

"We will begin to choose healthcare providers with the expectation they embrace technology, and we will demand that," he said.

The federal government recently released requirements that doctors and hospitals must meet to qualify as meaningful users of electronic health records and be eligible for incentive funds. We take a look at the core requirements, the government's intentions, potential pitfalls, and reaction from the medical community. Download the report here (registration required).

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