Electronic Health Reporter: Health IT Trends In 2020

Electronic Health Reporter: Health IT Trends In 2020

Electronic Health Reporter: Health IT Trends In 2020

Electronic Health Reporter recently caught up with a number of health tech leaders to discuss IT trends to anticipate in 2020. Feedback included thoughts from our own CEO, Terrence M. Ryan. 

Terrence M. Ryan, CEO, HealthChampion

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data Solutions – platforms that aggregate large amounts of patient data, like EHRs/EMRs, will continue to partner with leading AI companies to combine the massive amounts of patient data with other analytics and capabilities to help monitor and treat populations. Digital health management will expand beyond chronic disease management to become a mainstay in the general population.

People will continue to adopt the right technology for their health goals and use digital health management to navigate their healthcare journey. Femtech will continue to expand aggressively as the female population looks to help manage every aspect of their health with both in-person and digital resources.

Read the full article here. 

 

 

 

 

 

Terrence Ryan

Treating the smartphone generation: How doctors are embracing mHealth to improve patient care

Treating the smartphone generation: How doctors are embracing mHealth to improve patient care

Treating the smartphone generation: How doctors are embracing mHealth to improve patient care

It’s been just more than a decade since the iPhone made its debut, but it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t rely on our smartphones for nearly all aspects of our lives.  According to the Pew Research Center, the share of Americans that own smartphones is now 77 percent, and we are using them for far more than calling and texting. Whether its for shopping or banking, finding a date or reading a book, smartphones have become a part of the way we live and navigate through our days, quite literally. Can you even remember the last time you drove somewhere without relying on your smartphone to get you there?  

This trend is no exception in healthcare, where an explosion of mobile health (mHealth) apps and devices have empowered consumers to take charge of their health and wellness. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), mHealth is “the use of mobile and wireless devices to improve health outcomes, healthcare services, and health research.” No matter how you define it, consumer adoption is skyrocketing.  

 In its 2018 Consumer Survey on Digital Health, Accenture found nearly half of healthcare consumers are using mobile apps today, compared to just 16 percent in 2014, and a third of consumers now regularly use a wearable device that tracks lifestyle and health data. The same report found 75 percent of consumers believe technology is important to manage their health.  

Moreover, mHealth is tipping the relationship scales between patients and their doctors. While patients once looked to their doctors as the sole authority on their care, today’s patients are looking for more of a partnership. According to findings from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, consumers increasingly expect to partner with doctors instead of relying on them to make treatment decisions. mHealth tools such as the HealthChampion app help them to play a more active role in their care, armed with wearables and apps that allow them to monitor and manage their own health.  

Are Physicians Ready for mHealth Patients? 

It wasn’t all that long ago that the first generation of digital health tools launched with skepticism from most doctors. Websites with symptom checkers and health information gave patients the ability to seek out a diagnosis before ever visiting their doctor, and also provided easy access for patients to research more about their health conditions. While physicians could appreciate patient engagement with these tools, many felt they interfered with care. Instead of empowering patients, they generally led to unnecessary patient anxiety when they self-diagnosed with a worstcase scenario based on googling a few vague symptoms.  

Today, digital health tools go well beyond health websites like WebMD. Patients are now coming to their doctors with a wealth of information and tailored health apps stored on their phones including comprehensive health histories, test results from online lab services, and vital signs and lifestyle data they’ve collected through their Fitbit or smartwatch.  So how are doctors handling a new generation of smartphone patients, who come armed with health data in the palm of their hand?  

Unlike their reaction to online symptom checkers, many doctors are embracing mHealth with open arms. As their patients increasingly turn to apps and devices, physicians know they can ill afford to be left behind in the mHealth revolution. They also recognize that patientcentered care movement is here to stay, and believe mHealth gives patients a powerful set of tools to be more active partners in their care. While not entirely without challenges, mHealth offers both providers and patients a conduit to improve communication, care and ultimately health outcomes. 

Physicians GMobile 

Just as their patients are going mobile, physicians too are increasingly bringing their devices into the clinic to help them do all aspects of their job. According to Kantar Media, 84 percent of physicians now use smartphones on the job. 

Convenience is a driving force. Crunched to see more patients and with busier schedules than ever before, doctors are looking for tools that can make their jobs easier. They use smartphones to manage their personal lives, and now they are using them in their practice to look at information on the go, quickly communicate with colleagues and to access patient data and test results, regardless of where they are.  

Just a few years ago, the practice of using smartphones clinically was frowned upon, but a combination of enhanced security measures and an onslaught of physicianspecific apps are making it possible for doctors to leverage mHealth tools throughout their day. Many health systems have rolled out bring your own device policies that allow physicians to use their personal smartphones and tablets, and EHR vendors have enhanced mobile functionality of their platforms. Concern over sensitive data being stored on devices has virtually been eliminated as more information is available in the cloud and can be accessed as needed while remaining secure behind firewalls.  

mHealth Most Used for Communications 

Not surprising, one of the most prevalent uses of mHealth among doctors is for communications. Physicians Practice 2018 Mobile Health Survey shows this is the most common use of mobile technology in the practice setting, with nearly 70 percent of respondents using mHealth for communication between staff members.  

As doctors are increasingly spread out across facilities, mHealth tools make it easier to collaborate and coordinate patient care. According to the Journal of Medical Internet Research, clinical use of smartphones has already been successful in improving communication between doctors and their nurses. This improvement isn’t surprising given many health systems still rely on antiquated communications systems such as overhead paging systems, landline phones, and faxes. 

Doctors are Increasingly Turning to their Smartphones for Clinical Information 

While the greatest adoption of mobile health initiatives so far has been to manage their workflow, doctors are increasingly turning to apps to help care for their patients, particularly when seeking additional information to diagnose and determine treatment options. Whether it is to identify a condition they don’t see every day, look up drug interactions, or perform clinical calculations, apps are putting a wealth of clinical data at doctors’ fingertips to help them do their jobs more effectively.   

For example, Epocrates is an app specifically designed to give physicians answers to clinical questions they may have in front of their patients. Other apps take advantage of the smartphone’s camera, allowing physicians to use photos to assist with diagnosis. This is especially valuable for primary care physicians who are often on the front-line in seeing skin rashes that could otherwise be difficult to diagnosis before engaging a specialist — patients like when doctors use these tools, as it builds trust and shows that they care enough to look up more information about their health. 

Physicians Hope mHealth can Heal the Broken Patient Experience 

At a time when patient satisfaction with healthcare is at an all-time low, some physicians are hoping mHealth can help to heal the broken patient experience. Consumers can do almost anything from their phone. They book dinner reservations, deposit checks, buy tickets, and even check-in for flightfrom their mobile device, and they want that same experience with their physician.  

A wave of new mobile tools and apps are helping physicians to implement mobile conveniences patients have become accustomed to in other areas of their life, offering features such as mobile appointment scheduling and check-in, mobile EHR access and the ability to communicate directly with a doctor via text.  

Nearly half of doctors expect mHealth apps and features such as these will enhance their patient experience, and patients are even more optimistic about the potential. According to Accenture69 percent of patients believe mHealth can bolster communications with their physician, and an equal number believe it will improve the overall quality of their care 

Using Smartphones to Build Patient Engagement 

Among the most promising applications of mHealth is to build patient engagement, something physicians have previously struggled to do between visits. According to Accenture, 73 percent of consumers believe digital tools will improve their engagement with their health, and Digitas Health has backed up that belief, finding that patients who use mHealth are indeed more engaged in their care and more likely to follow advice from their physician.  

To drive engagement through mHealth, physicians are increasingly “prescribing” apps to their patients, recommending tools and wearable devices they can use to manage and monitor lifestyle choices. The number of doctors prescribing mHealth apps has increased to 40 percent, up from just 15 percent three years ago. Showing the engagement potential of mHealth, patients say they are more likely to fill a mHealth prescription than a pharmaceutical prescription 

Although among the simplest of mobile technologies, texting is playing a big role in patient engagement efforts and is proving successful in delivering better outcomes. Doctors are using texts for everything from appointment and vaccine reminders to medication adherence and surgery prep instructions. Some are even using tailored health campaigns based on patients’ profiles. Such programs have increased show rates for appointments, increased engagement in necessary follow-up care, and even reduced hospital readmittance among surgical patients.  

Though Still Underutilized, the Future Lies in Remote mHealth Applications 

Although still underutilized today, consumers and physicians agree the greatest potential for mHealth lies in remote health monitoring and care delivery via wearables and other devices Whether it is real-time monitoring of glucose levels or analysis of EEG signals, remote monitoring tools can have a significant impact on care and outcomes. Remote monitoring can also significantly cut down on skyrocketing costs. For example, wearable devices allow doctors to send patients home earlier after surgery and track their condition remotely helping to reduce the number of days for expensive hospital stays.  

Challenges to mHealth Adoption 

While it is a positive sign to see so many physicians get on board with mHealth, they still face many barriers in the adoption of mHealth. Some of the greatest challenges today include data overload and reimbursement challenges for both doctors and patients.  

  • Data Overload: While access to so much health data should ultimately lead to better care, most physicians don’t yet have the tools to take in the volume of patient data coming at them or to make it meaningful. If a patient arrives with a year’s worth of data from their Fitbit, there is little a doctor can do in the moment of a quick appointment to put the data into context. Despite its potential to predict potential health problems, currently, only 14.5 percent of respondents to the Physicians Practice 2018 Mobile Health Survey said they accept data from these devices, with more than 60 percent noting that the data doesn’t integrate into their EHR system. As more patients begin to adopt wearables and new devices equipped to monitor vitals related to chronic health issues hit the market, doctors will need systems that accept the data they collect and that use artificial intelligence to put it into context and make it actionable at scale.  
  • Physician Compensation: If doctors are successful in implementing mHealth, they could be working against themselves. Our current health system does not have a payment model for physician time spent on mHealth initiatives, so as physicians use mHealth to care for patients remotely and avoid repeat visits, they are effectively reducing their income opportunity. Also, no system exists to compensate doctors for time spent emailing and reviewing patient data. To realize the potential of mHealth as a tool for keeping patients healthier, our compensation model for physicians will need to evolve. A move toward value-based payments will give physicians greater incentive to leverage mHealth tools to keep patients healthier and to avoid additional appointments and hospitalizations.  
  • Patient Reimbursement: Some of the most promising applications for mHealth involve remote patient monitoring, particularly in the management of chronic conditions. But the jury is still out on who will pay for expensive mobile monitoring equipment. While tech-savvy consumers have selffunded the purchase of gadgets like the Fitbit and Apple Watch, the populations most in need of monitoring equipment may not have the means to invest in expensive devices. As we look at the role mHealth plays in our future care model, we must consider new patient reimbursement models that incent patients to monitor their condition at home, not just reimburse them at the point of care.  

Despite these challenges, we are at a very exciting time where mobile is enabling the transformation of care. Patients have the power of their health in their pocket and the tools they need to be a more active participant in their health journey, in partnership with their physicians.  And with technologies like that from HealthChampion, the ability for patients and doctors to take the wealth of health data available and make it practical, insightful, and meaningful is happening now. 

What Patients Can do to Get Their Physician on Board With mHealth 

Though physicians are quickly adopting mHealth solutions and largely recognize its value, in many cases, patient interest in mHealth surpasses what their providers currently offer. For those who want to better leverage mHealth with their doctor, there are steps they can take now to leverage mHealth and engage their doctor as a partner in their care.  

  • Build a Comprehensive Health History: The first step we recommend is to use a platform such as HealthChampion to own and track health history across all providers. Patients and their doctors can both benefit from access to a comprehensive health history that is easilly shared 
  • Track Personal Trends: If patients are using wearables, they can begin to analyze trends, even if their doctor can’t yet take in and leverage all of their data. We recommend that patients build an understanding of their baseline health stats and vitals, so they can quickly see any anomalies and share those with physicians.  
  • Ask Your Doctor for mHealth Recommendations: While the app store may give you feedback from other users, your doctor may be able to recommend mHealth tools based on what they see working for other patients.  

From improved convenience to better care, it is clear that both physicians and patients have much to gain through the adoption of mHealth solutions. When patients actively engage their physicians in conversations about the use of mHealth technology, it is a powerful reminder that they must continue to adapt and embrace new methods to deliver care on patients’ terms. 

Terrence Ryan
Making sense of the healthcare ecosystem and how technology is enabling people-driven health

Making sense of the healthcare ecosystem and how technology is enabling people-driven health

Making sense of the healthcare ecosystem and how technology is enabling people-driven health

Healthcare used to be much easier. The “ecosystem” consisted of you—the patient—and your doctor, the provider. If you needed medical attention or required a hospital stay, your doctor was in charge of coordinating your care.

Healthcare works best when all stakeholders are aligned around a proactive patient, within an ecosystem that supports success. In an ideal healthcare system interrelated consumer, providers, payers, government agencies, and others work together as a community centered around patient care: our care

And with total transparency into costs and shared, open access to the health information we need, healthcare consumer like us can make informed decisions to get the best care for ourselves and our families.

Unfortunately, that’s not the world we’ve been living in.

Our current healthcare system has grown increasingly complicated over decades of growth, changes, and regulation. And too often there is a disconnect among those who populate it. The key players often have conflicting goals that make it impossible for them to unite to serve each our unique needs, preferences and values.

Often, it’s not that they don’t want to work together to provide the best patient care. Our complex healthcare industry simply isn’t set up to enable coordinated care at a reasonable cost that allows patients to call the shots.

HealthChampion is on a mission to change that by taking on our present dysfunctional healthcare system where those who pay for, deliver, and receive healthcare currently operate in siloes that are not aligned with our needs and don’t always put us first.

A lack of transparency is preventing the healthcare system from working the way it should

Healthcare used to be much easier.

The “ecosystem” consisted of you—the patient—and your doctor, the provider. If you needed medical attention or required a hospital stay, your doctor was in charge of coordinating your care and would consult with specialists as needed.

All your health information was managed within one practice, whose doctors made decisions based on your complete medical history. You knew the costs up front and paid the doctor directly. For example, back in the 1960s, having a baby would set you back about $200 for the delivery and 10 cents a tablet for pain medication. You knew this because you would get a hand-written bill presented to you directly by your doctor’s desk clerk.

Today, the healthcare market is more opaque, to put it mildly.

The ecosystem has expanded to include countless other providers – primary and specialty physicians, nurses, and other clinical staff, as well as different hospitals, clinics and labs that deliver care. Our current healthcare ecosystem also includes healthcare organizations like payers—insurance companies that reimburse providers for covered healthcare services—and pharmacies that dispenses and manage the medications prescribed on your behalf.

Rounding out the healthcare landscape are healthcare organizations that don’t deal directly with patients, but whose contributions indirectly influence patient outcomes. These include…

  • Pharmaceutical companies who make and develop our medications
  • Biotechnology companies pushing the boundaries of treatment research
  • Medical device companies
  • Distributors whose products and services are used to prevent, diagnose, treat and even cure diseases
  • Health information technology providers who manage the all-important patient records and data

All these stakeholders play different individual roles, but they should be working together as a team toward the common goal of providing the best patient care. But because our healthcare system lacks transparency into costs, treatment outcomes, data ownership and access to information, these players often operate independently without knowing what the other is doing, often in conflict with one another.

HealthChampion’s goal is to get everyone working off the same playbook, by providing patients the ability to capture all the different data points and information and pull it all together for a more holistic picture of his or her healthcare.

Transparency could help improve accountability across the ecosystem

Transparency about pricing, quality, health and wellness data, appointments, services rendered, results, etc. can benefit each participant in the healthcare industry. Ultimately, transparency can help patients make better decisions that will improve healthcare outcomes and lower costs throughout the healthcare system.

  • Smarter decisions. Upfront pricing and health data transparency will also help patients make informed decisions about whether they want to proceed with a healthcare service, if they would like to get a second opinion, or if they would like to shop around for a lower-cost option. The same goes for clinical services.
  • Quality control. Information about a facility’s quality of care and outcomes can help consumers make better choices and give providers actionable information they can use to improve.

By placing more health information in the hands of the patient, they are better able to have true portability of their health records and other information to improve and empower their health experience.

Benefits to healthcare providers

Transparency also offer benefits for providers, as well:

  • Fewer missed appointments. Making appointment information will help consumers with their schedules.
  • More informed partner. Sharing findings, results and records more readily can help educate patients, for better health decisions.
  • Better ratings. The movement for more transparent pricing and consumer reviews and ratings is happening and patients are using it as a yardstick to measure their providers against the competition.

This type of transparency encourages healthcare practitioners to be more accountable and make improvements, leading to better patient outcomes.

Benefits to healthcare payers

For healthcare payers and insurers, availability of patient data will help identify patterns and trends in healthcare quality and enable them to implement value-based payment models. This could further improve quality and lower costs across the entire healthcare industry.

In addition, payers who provide consumers with clear information about what’s covered, who pays for what, how patients can access care and which providers and facilities are in their networks will gain an advantage in cost management.

When patients understand upfront how much they will owe out of pocket they are more likely to pay in a timely manner, thus reducing the amount of uncompensated care and administrative cost that the system must absorb. Additionally, the patient/consumer can leverage their own health data as they shop for plans or discounts. By taking advantage of health incentives offered by certain plans and being able to share health and medical data with their payers, the consumer might be able to take advantage of certain discount and health incentives to lower their overall costs.

Benefits to federal, state and local governments

Price transparency would allow private payers and policymakers to better understand how Medicare/Medicaid’s purchasing power impacts market pricing. This can open the market up to competition that lowers costs and improves quality of care for the millions on government health plans.

As the country’s largest health insurer, the government, can standardize and provide system-wide access to healthcare data that could help drive transparency on many other fronts, to increase competition, lower costs and improve the quality of care for everyone in the healthcare sector.

Benefits to pharmaceutical companies

Getting a better understanding of the costs associated with each stage of their own drug development and manufacturing process would help them secure competitive pricing from their suppliers, and in turn lower costs for consumers.

In addition, by improving access to information about the safety and effectiveness of medications, pharma companies would enable payers, providers and patients to choose the best, lowest cost options.

Improved affordability means people are less likely to skip doses, or split pills to save money, leading to improved health. And imagine if there were better ways of informing consumers about their medications either through alerts announcing updates and improvements or notifying them that they should see their physician or pharmacist about a timely refill or a possible drug interaction. The benefits seem endless.

Focus on the patient

At the center of all of these is the healthcare consumer. Transparency about costs, quality, and safety from everyone throughout the healthcare sector would help them be better, more empowered consumers. With the information to be accountable, people can make value-driven healthcare decisions that will result in lower costs, more choices, and better outcomes for everyone.

Why isn’t it working today?

Consumers, who should be quarterbacking their own healthcare decisions, have no choice but to look on from the sidelines.

What’s holding them back? The answer points to what our current system is missing:

  • A lack of understanding about how our complex healthcare system works
  • A lack of awareness about their rights as far as ownership and access to their health data
  • A lack of true data portability so that they can access and share their data within their healthcare ecosystem.

Without transparency into these critical components of healthcare, consumers aren’t empowered to be accountable for their own care or make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

Information about pricing and costs are hard to come by

Take costs for example. In the current healthcare market, payers use patient’s health data and provider guidelines to set pricing.

But the average patient has very little insight into who is using their data, how prices are determined and how much services really cost!

Even though we (and our employers) are the ones footing most of the bill for insurance premiums, co-payments, and deductibles, there’s little insights into what healthcare actually costs. That’s because when providers submit claims to payers, who then reimburse them for the billable services they performed, there’s no single standard for how much services should cost.

The fees can range widely based on which payer is responsible for providing reimbursement for a specific component of treatment, how much they’ve agreed to pay, and on the individual provider used. This fee-for-service (FFS) financial model makes it tough for people to comparison shop for the best services at the lowest prices. It also makes it tough for providers to give standardized pricing that’s easy for all to understand.

Since third parties are typically paying, there’s little incentive for healthcare providers and most patients to pay attention to or even try to be accountable for managing the costs of services they use.

Disconnected data makes it hard to see the big picture

Another big challenge is data transparency. Providers contribute to and use electronic health records (EHRs) to manage patient data. Patients also contribute significant amounts of information by voluntarily disclosing details about their diet, physical activity, and lifestyle choices like alcohol, tobacco and seat belt use, among others.

But this information is not always added to the primary record to give a more robust picture of patient health.

The opportunity is clear

Electronic health record systems, along with a variety of other consumer- and patient-centered technologies have the potential to put everyone in the ecosystem on the same page, by combining patient healthcare data from labs, radiology, medical imaging, and pharmacy, and patients’ personal devices, enabling electronic access and communication among providers for facilitating care delivery.

EHR data can also be combined to inform billing, quality management, outcomes reporting, resource planning, and public health disease surveillance and reporting. Instead, all this patient data is trapped in silos across the health care ecosystem where it is difficult for everyone to access and share.

Siloed data is underutilized data

In many cases patient medical records are controlled by a single healthcare organization or healthcare system. Each system has its own set of inconvenient controls that make it difficult for patients and families to access and transfer records across multiple providers. Also, each EHR system stores data differently, making it difficult to tell who recorded which data, or where and when.

The problem is that pieces of patient health data get scattered across disconnected clinical, research, administrative, and financial software systems. As a result, information that originates outside of the established system, like lab tests, medications and other procedures, aren’t always incorporated into the primary record, preventing everyone on the healthcare team, including the patient, from having the benefit of the big picture.

These data silos make it difficult to identify and address important health trends with patients or support any form of personalized care. The result is passive, frustrated, uninformed patients who don’t have the tools they need to be proactive, so they wait until they get sick before taking any action.

We need to seize the opportunity

HealthChampion advocates for patients to have more control over their health data along with the ability to give everyone in their healthcare ecosystem equal access to it, so they could be better prepared to identify and manage conditions before they become an issue. The provider and patient-provided data could be made available to everyone in the healthcare sector to get a complete picture of patient health so they could work together to deliver personalized treatments that will optimize outcomes for each person.

Unfortunately, until recently, we haven’t had the tools to do so.

Technology is bringing transparency and empowering consumers to take control

Technology brings with it an array of capabilities for collecting, measuring and managing data, as well as automating processes, to empower everyone in the ecosystem to make more insightful, informed decisions. With this new level of transparency, consumers, providers and all the of the health ecosystem players can get the information they need to better manage the patient’s personal health journey, find out if a condition needs medical intervention, determine treatment options, pay for treatments, and determine if the quality of care received and payment paid provided the best value.

Technology enables data ownership and liquidity

Data is central to empowering individual patients to be accountable for the management of their own care. New consumer-centric, cloud-based data solutions are moving the entire healthcare system towards a more informed, proactive approach to health. Digital disruptors like blockchain are helping players beef up their ability to collect, consolidate, and share all forms of patient data as the one source of truth across the healthcare sector in a secure and private way. At the same time powerful analytics programs are quickly becoming table stakes for providers who want to stay competitive.

With new capabilities to effectively analyze data across systems and care settings providers are able to better predict their patients’ future treatment needs and monitor the effectiveness of their medical care. And with advances in data security, one source of information is more easily accessible by everyone in the healthcare ecosystem.

Data liquidity from all medical record sources breaks down siloes and enables patients to be accountable. The result will be an engaged patient who is incentivized, informed, supported, and empowered with the tools needed to take a proactive approach to their own health.

Changing the healthcare landscape for the better

With increasing transparency comes control that enables consumers to take treatment into their own hands. The security to allow physicians, clinical staff, family, friends, and caregivers specific access to their data enables people to build their own patient-centered community for ongoing support.

The trend toward consolidated information also brings collective benefits for everyone in the healthcare industry beyond individual patients. Digital data networks have the power to connect fragmented system data across geography to generate faster, better results and identify potential treatments that can be shared for the benefit of large communities of similar patients.

For instance, patients undergoing treatment for the same chronic conditions can be identified and grouped together to share test results and best practice clinical outcomes.

The trend toward consumer ownership and healthcare accountability is a work in progress, but with HealthChampion’s support, we’re heading in the right direction. Better access to their data, plus the ability to share their records within their healthcare ecosystem and on their own terms will provide the needed transparency to drive improved costs, quality of care, and better health.

The healthcare system is finally beginning to realize the benefits of incorporating technology that enables disconnected consumers and healthcare organizations to see and share individual patient data with each other, with the patient’s permission. With fully engaged and enlightened patients in control, providers, payers, and everyone across the healthcare ecosystem will need to become more closely aligned on driving positive outcomes for overall patient health.

Terrence Ryan

Why consumer health data is the key to people-driven health

Why consumer health data is the key to people-driven health

Why consumer health data is the key to people-driven health

Digital technology and the age of big data have disrupted nearly every industry, and healthcare is no exception. While there have been cutting edge advancements to nearly all aspects of care, a significant gap remains between the promise of what is possible 

That gap is particularly wide when we consider the reality of what patients experience in today’s healthcare ecosystem, especially when it comes to their personal health information and how that data is leveraged in pursuit of optimal care.  

Billions of dollars have been spent on healthcare IT infrastructure. The healthcare industry has undertaken a mass adoption by providers of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). And we’re now seeing an influx of real-time health data made possible by wearable health devices. 

Despite all these innovations and investments, today’s consumers still face significant challenges when it comes to taking charge of their health data to advance and improve their wellness and health outcomes 

While we’ve seen significant increases in access to online health portals designed to put health records at patient fingertipsonly 25% of patients report actually using their electronic health records (EHRs) to make healthcare decisions Fortyone percent report they have never even seen their health information, let alone used it to guide their care.  
 


 

What’s holding back healthcare consumers? 

We’ve never had more real-time health data available, and new devices that can track our every vital sign continue to hit the market.  We live in an age where pill capsulecan carry a digital footprint capable of letting doctors know how their patients are adhering to a medication protocol, where portable devices can alert care teams to potentially serious changes in blood sugar and heart rate of patients in their homes, and where thirty-three percent of consumers now wear technology on a regular basis to track their fitness, heart rate, and sleep schedules. 

At a time when mass availability of data should be making consumers partners in their own care, few are even taking the most basic of steps to use health records to better navigate their care and outcomesWith so much promise, why aren’t more consumers taking charge of their health data?  

Despite Growing Understanding That Technology Can Help Manage Their Health, Barriers Stand in the Way 

Few will debate that much can be gained by taking a more active role in managing their health informationIn fact, the latest research from Accenture shows the majority of consumers, 75 percent, said technology is important to managing their health. The survey found consumers are increasingly using digital technologies to manage their care and are beginning to adopt self-service digital health tools that go beyond websites.  

Despite a positive trend in understanding the role technology can play in helping to manage their health and openness to it, the barriers that stand between consumers and their data keep most from taking a more active role in using the information to steer their healthcareKnowing where to start can be a confusing and cumbersome process, and lack of true data portability makes it difficult for even the savviest of patients to access and share data when and where they need it.   

Access, Portability, and Apathy Stand in the Way 

Many consumers aren’t even aware they have access to their medical data. Despite more than two decades of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act which guarantees patients’ access to their data, nearly one in three patients still don’t know they have rights to electronic medical records.  

Among those that do know their rights, they don’t always know what to do with their information or how to make it actionable, especially if they are in good health. Because EHRs were primarily designed as a tool for payers not patients, they have not been effectively positioned as a patient tool that drives value, and they are not used as a tool to drive better health.   

Portability of data is another major obstacle. While more providers are using EHRs than ever before, information is rarely compatible between systems. Collecting and consolidating medical records across providers falls squarely on the shoulders of consumers, and it can be a daunting, timeconsuming, and at times costly process. As long as data remains segregated across disparate providers with no easy way for consumers to connect all of their history into a comprehensive health snapshot, convenience will be a major barrier.  

Not all blame falls to the system. Patient apathy also plays a key role, particularly for healthy patients who don’t have a driving force to make their health data a priority. One reason many say they have not accessed online medical records is simply that they have not needed them.  

With current obstacles standing between them and their data, it’s not surprising consumers have not stepped into the drivers’ seat as stewards of their health narrative.  Despite research that shows that engaged patients receive better quality healthcare and can avoid potential medical errors, the tools in our current system don’t provide a compelling enough benefit for healthy patients to take on the cumbersome process of health data management. It’s unlikely consumers will take charge until the process becomes easy and the benefits are clear to them in daily living.  

Debates Over Data are Holding Back Advancement 

There is a major disconnect between the promise of health data and the actual benefit consumers see today. To empower consumers to take a more active role as a partner in their own care they will need more convenient access to their data and the ability to share that information in meaningful ways that allow them to manage chronic conditions, align care plans across providers, keep loved ones safe and predict lifethreatening issues before they occur. 

Consider a future when the busy mom of three knows she can securely send health information to her childrens’ schools with the click of a button instead of spending hours filling in paper forms and digging through the filing cabinet for old records. The day has arrived where we can predict heart attacks through wearable devices and alert users to seek life-saving care.  

Imagine a time when a caregiver no longer needs to lose sleep worrying about her diabetic mom, because her data is being shared and monitored in real-time by her health team. In these scenarios, consumers will proactively engage in their care because their data is working for them, instead of them needing to work for their data.  

The technology and data for some of these applications exists today and it is emerging for othersbut much progress is caught in the debate over who should manage and own patient health records, stalling the development and launch of lifesaving, predictive healthcare tools. 

In the end, most consumers don’t want the burden of managing their data, but they want the benefits of their data helping to manage them. When their information is freed and exists in a transparent way and in a format that they can easily share with their physicians, apps, and tools, consumers will truly be empowered as partners in their care.  

What Patients Can Do Now – Five Steps to Take Charge of Health Data Today 

We’ve not yet reached the health data promised land. Much still needs to be done to close the gaps in system operability and to free the reins on data. But consumers can ill afford to wait for systemic change and innovation to take charge of their health data basics. Most wouldn’t go through their day not knowing what’s in their bank account, and they should take a similar approach to understand and account for their health history.   

Even within the confines of today’s complex system, patients can improve their care, prevent mistakes and save money by taking a more proactive role in managing their health data. While we wait for technology and data sharing guidelines to evolve to deliver on the true promise of patientdriven health, there are five steps patients can and should take today to become stewards of their health history.  

Step One: Know Your Health Data Rights and Secure Your Records 

The first step patients must take to health accountability is gaining access to data and records. Thanks to HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, all patients have the right to see and request copies of health records and information from care providers and health plans under federal law 

The easiest place to start is with online portals most providers now offer, making it easy to view visit history, test results, medications, allergies vitals and appointment schedules online. An increasing number of providers also allow patients to download health records via the Blue Button consistently seen across health sites.  

If patients don’t have access to their records via their care providerhealth portal, requests for records can be made in person, via phone, by email or by fax. Most providers will ask that patients complete a form requesting their records. Patients should remember that it is their right to receive their data in the format they choose, and even if records are archived, patients still have the right to get a copy. 

A wealth of resources exists to help consumers navigate access to their records. The US Department of Health and Human Services can help patients better understand their rights, and the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is a great place for advice on gathering your medical data. Groups like GetMyHealthData also help patients to secure their records and know to do when access to records is denied 

Moving forward, patients can create demand for better access and ownership of their health records by choosing physicians that put data at their fingertips and offer online visibility and transparency. When choosing providers, patients can ask how their records can be accessed and how their data will integrate with other systems.  

Step Two: Check Health Records for Accuracy 

Since health data can be used to evaluate everything from the course of care to diagnoses to life insurance rates and health insurance risks, it is imperative that patients take time to check the accuracy of their medical records and work with their physicians to request changes to outdated or inaccurate information to ensure it won’t compromise their future care.  

While electronic health records are making it easier to access information, the move to digitize records has also led to an increase in inaccuracies. Mistakes can happen in the data entry process, when providers choose the wrong diagnostic codes, through poor transcription and in poor translation as practices transfer their old paper records to electronic systems.   

In addition to making sure their personal information is correct, patients should carefully review notes, diagnoses, test results and, medications. Underscoring the need to make sure records are accurate, a 2017 study from the Patient Safety Authority in Pennsylvania reported that seventy percent of medication errors that were included patients’ charts actually reached those patients.  

It’s just as important for patients to check for information that has been left out of their health records. Take for example allergies. In case of an emergency, an omitted drug allergy from a patients file could have fatal consequences.  

While patients can’t directly make changes to information in their official health records, HIPAA does mandate the right to have inaccurate information corrected by their healthcare provider, and when a patient and provider disagree about the accuracy of the information in a record, patients can have a statement about the disagreement added to the file. 

Step Three: Create a Personal Health Record 

With their data in hand, many patients are unsure of what to do with their records, where to store them or how that data can help them.  A good step once they’ve gathered and updated their records, is to create their own Personal Health Record, or PHR. A PHR helps patients maintain and manage their health information in a private, secure, and confidential environment.   

A PHR differs from an electronic health record in that the patient owns it and they can control who has access. Many PHRs give you the option of adding information you think is relevant but that your doctor may not include in an EHR, like information about your over-the-counter medications, exercise habits or sleep schedule. 

There are many online services and apps patients can use to create a PHR. When evaluating which service to use, there are a few things patients should keep in mind. Security tops the list. Look for services that specifically outline your privacy rights and explicitly state that they won’t sell, use or share your personal health information without permission. Other features to look for are the ability to easily upload additional files directly from your provider’s online portal as well as the ability to share records with a provider or caregiver. 

Step Four: Embrace New Sources of Health Data to Drive Your Wellness 

Even though physicians may not yet have a platform for taking data from wearable devices, it can be invaluable information in pursuit of wellness goals. A growing number of apps are allowing patients to integrate this data into their personal health records and to share it with providers 

Because patients are currently the ones holding the keys to this data and it is not locked up behind provider firewalls, it may be among the first data sets to be activated in developing new care tools. Patients can use this data to manage progress in pursuit of better fitness, sleep, and diet.  

Step Five: Use Data to Take Action  

When acted upon, personal health data has the potential to be one of our greatest healthcare tools. With an accurate health profile at their fingertips, patients can realize the benefits of using their data to improve physician relationships, take charge of their healthcare planning, improve their wellness and decrease costs. 

Steps in the Right Direction 

While healthcare data utopia has not yet been realized, consumers can take heart in knowing these basic steps can put them in control of their health information and management, even if they don’t technically own their data, yet. By putting in the time to access and aggregate their records, they are positioned to better monitor chronic conditions, adhere to treatment plans, find and fix errors in their health records and track progress in wellness or disease management programs.  But as consumer healthcare technologies continue to evolve, we are getting closer and closer to a truly transparent, people-driven health model where consumers are in the driver’s seat and the entire health ecosystem is benefiting from the results.

Terrence Ryan

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