Will Simpler Health Information Win Over Consumers?

Health reference library written at eighth-grade level could kindle consumers' interest in downloading their own medical records -- and help health providers meet next stage of Meaningful Use.

Neil Versel, Contributor

December 10, 2012

3 Min Read

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Health information services provider Healthline Networks has made its body of consumer-focused health information available to IT vendors for integration into patient portals, communication platforms and other technology systems.

This release is not exactly an application programming interface, but Healthline said that's coming. For now, the company is allowing its technology partners to embed Healthline Reference Library content into their own software. "We believe that making it available to technology developers, there is a demand for that," executive VP David Kopp told InformationWeek Healthcare.

The San Francisco-based company released Healthline Reference Library in September as a replacement for licensed content on its Healthline.com consumer health information site and announced the integration capabilities late last month. The clinically validated information is written for an eighth-grade reading level in an effort to address health literacy issues. Kopp said this is at least two grade levels below what some competitors offer. "We have put a lot of effort into making the content more approachable," Kopp said. This includes visuals, he added.

[ To see how patient engagement can help transform medical care, check out 5 Healthcare Tools To Boost Patient Involvement. ]

The announcement comes as the health IT community prepares for the start of Meaningful Use Stage 2 in 2014, which requires more patient engagement than in the current Stage 1. "I think it's more of a coincidence than intentional," chief medical officer Dr. Paul Auerbach said of the timing of the Healthline news.

In Stage 2, for the first time, earning federal incentive money for Meaningful Use of electronic health records (EHRs) will not be entirely up to providers. Hospitals and medical practices will have to give at least half of their patients the ability to view and download their own medical records -- and 5% of patients actually have to do so. This means they must convince enough patients to take an active role in their own care or the providers risk losing out on the bonus payments.

Meaningful Use Stage 2 is "part of that effort of complex patient engagement," Auerbach said. He noted that many in health IT are pondering the same question: "What will motivate patients?"

Auerbach believes there has always been the need to provide better information to health consumers, and that is what Healthline is interested in with its reference library. "Right now, it's about getting the educational and didactical level right," Auerbach said. "We hope that this is an enormous improvement."

He said Healthline will be paying attention to consumer feedback to improve the content of the library. "We consider this to be a dynamic process, so this not an endgame for us." he said.

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About the Author(s)

Neil Versel


Neil Versel is a journalist specializing in health IT, mobile health, patient safety, quality of care & the business of healthcare. He’s also a board member of @HealtheVillages.

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