Current Efforts: Empowering consumer actionSkip to issue
This post outlines several steps the federal government has taken to empower consumers to use health information to make healthy choices and better health care decisions. Here, ONC is looking for feedback on these steps so far, and for ideas on how the federal government should proceed in the future.
§2. Health IT education
Consumers and providers often look for reliable, easy to understand resources to help explain disease management, how a drug or device works and what side effects to watch out for, and what a certain procedure or test involves. Providers also can use decision aids (such as websites or online brochures) to help educate consumers about their health issues and possible treatment options.
To provide information about how health IT can be a health education resource, ONC is promoting the use of the HealthIT.gov website as a “one-stop shop” for the public to learn about health IT and eHealth tools, and to hear stories about how people have benefited from health IT.
In addition, ONC has partnered with Sharecare, an interactive health site where people can go to find reliable answers to frequently asked questions about health care and health IT. ONC is a featured “expert” partner on Sharecare, helping to answer questions visitors raise about EHRs, eHealth, and other health IT-related topics. ONC’s partnership with Sharecare allows people to get information from a trusted source and it helps ONC gain a better understanding of the types of questions people have about health IT.
- How can ONC further improve HealthIT.gov?
- What other partnerships like Sharecare should ONC consider to enhance its consumer outreach and educational efforts?
For other discussions about developing educational and training materials, see
§3. Healthy behaviors and patient self-management
Several government and private-sector programs are testing technologies that help consumers to learn about healthy behaviors and to manage their health conditions outside of their medical visits. Projects include:
- Txt4Health, a service that allows users to build a personal profile of health concerns (e.g., weight loss, diabetes); the service then sends users 5-7 text messages a week with information and ideas targeted to their personal concerns;
- remote monitoring, such as an electronic scale that checks for water retention that might signal complications for someone with congestive heart failure; and
- telehealth efforts, such as the Indian Health Service and Veterans’ Administration “virtual” primary care office visits in remote areas or to provide visits with a specialist.
ONC is working with Federal partners and private organizations to encourage development of eHealth tools.
- What are the most useful ways for federal regulations and partnerships to encourage the private marketplace to develop eHealth tools that enhance people’s ability to manage their own health care?
- What other initiatives, like challenges and prizes, could further encourage developers to engage consumers and create more eHealth tools that allow them to maintain and improve health?”
- How can government policies encourage creation of educational materials using health IT that clinicians could use to teach consumers about health issues (e.g., a prescription’s potential side effects or how to manage a new diagnosis)?
- How can government policies support creation of educational materials using health IT that consumers could use to learn about health issues and how to manage their own health care?
- What other ways would consumers like to use their health information, and what activities should ONC be aware of?
For discussion about how health IT can empower consumers to take an active role in their health care, see
§4. Consumer-provider communication
ONC is working with private industry and other federal agencies to improve the ability of consumers and clinicians to communicate with one another through secure email messaging and patient portals.
New federal regulations require providers participating in the “meaningful use” program to (i) use secure messaging in their practice and (ii) communicate with their patients in ways that are consistent with the individual’s recorded preferences (such as email, regular mail, or through a patient portal). ONC is also encouraging health IT developers to make communication resources easy for providers and patients to use.
- What additional policies and standards would help product developers design eHealth tools to make it easier for patients and providers to communicate with each other about the patient’s care?
For other discussions about the role federal regulation should play, see
For discussion about how health IT can empower consumers to take an active role in their health care, see Identifying useful health information
For discussion about helping providers integrate into their workflow the information that they receive from patients through new eHealth tools, see Patient-generated health data.
§5. Privacy & security
ONC recognizes that privacy and security concerns may impact the willingness of consumers and providers to use health IT to increase access to health information. Privacy and security are the topic of a separate section of the Strategic Plan (Goal 3), since these concerns cut across all areas of health IT. Although this public comment period is not targeted at updating Goal 3, ONC will be revising that section of the Plan and your discussion of these concerns, and ideas about addressing them, will help the federal government decide on appropriate future steps.
(You can read the current version of Goal 3 by clicking the Background Documents tab at the top of this page, and selecting 2011-2015 Federal Health IT Strategic Plan).
Check out all the available topics to consider privacy and security in particular consumer health IT contexts.