Current Efforts: Enabling information accessSkip to issue
Health IT can be used to collect, manage and share health information more easily and effectively. This helps consumers and their care team make more informed health decisions. Also, eHealth tools (such as mobile health apps, personal monitoring devices, and personal health record systems) can help people manage their health conditions and stay well. When consumers and providers use health IT well, the results may include:
- better care that is more coordinated and individually appropriate;
- fewer unnecessary tests and procedures;
- fewer preventable illnesses and avoidable hospitalizations; and
- better management of chronic conditions.
The federal government wants to empower people to use health IT to improve their health and the way they interact with the health care system. Increasing consumers’ access to their own health information is one key step towards this goal. Increased access will lead to the free flow of patient data from separate electronic health record (EHR) systems. This in turn allows consumers and providers to take advantage of new applications that help people manage and make sense of their health information. In this post, ONC is looking for feedback on steps currently being taken to enable information access, and for ideas on how these steps could be even more effective in the future.
So far, the focus has been on increasing access to clinical data (information gathered or created by health care providers) and claims data (information from health insurance companies). To discuss new efforts in the area of information that consumers themselves gather or create, go to Patient-generated health data.
Two other key steps toward empowering individuals through health IT are: (i) encouraging consumers to use eHealth tools to manage their health and (ii) promoting use of health IT and eHealth tools to encourage providers and patients to think and act as partners in managing health and health care. You can discuss the steps currently being taken in these two areas at Current Efforts: Empowering consumer action and Current Efforts: Shifting attitudes.
§2. New regulations
New federal regulations give financial incentives to eligible providers that adopt and “meaningfully use” EHRs in ways that improve health outcomes. Beginning in 2014, participating providers must allow patients to “view, download, and transmit” their health data. This means that consumers must be able to:
- see their health information online;
- download the information to their computers; and
- export it to a personal health record system or other electronic tool or application that helps them manage their health and coordinate the care they are receiving from all their providers.
The regulations also support better communication by requiring providers to offer patients secure email messaging so they can exchange information between office visits.
- How can ONC encourage providers who may not be participating in the incentive program to offer their patients a way to view, download, and transmit their electronic health information?
- What further steps would encourage providers to support their patients’ request to access their information?
For other discussions about the role federal regulation should play, see
§3. Enabling automated access
One way consumers can access their health information is through “Blue Button,” a tool that provides a simple, one-click method to view and download digital health records or insurance claims information securely.
Today, 88 million Americans have access to Blue Button through the Department of Veterans Affairs, Medicare, and several large health insurance companies, and there have been over 1.4 million Blue Button downloads.
ONC is working with health insurers and other organizations to encourage the use of Blue Button by their members. To make health data downloaded through Blue Button easier to read and understand, the federal government is encouraging developers to build apps and tools that combine the data with other information sources.
The government has worked with a group of organizations to develop a standard set of technical specifications for Blue Button that will allow consumers to choose a place where they’d like any updates to their health information to go. This will let them receive automatic updates when new information is added to their EHR.
- How can ONC encourage consumers to access their health information through Blue Button and similar tools?
- Are there reasons why patients are not currently asking providers to share their health data with them, or using the electronic information that is available?
- Are there ways that ONC could better encourage and inform people of the benefits in receiving access to their health information?
- How can ONC help providers better inform consumers that they have the right to access their health information?
§4. Creating interest/demand
ONC developed an animated video to educate people about the advantages of:
- getting electronic access to their health records;
- sharing information electronically with their providers and caregivers; and
- using eHealth tools to manage their health.
Recent video challenges have invited the public to share stories of how they use health IT to manage medications, cancer care, and other issues.
The Office for Civil Rights developed a memo that explains patients’ legal rights to see and get a copy of their health information. They can take this to the doctor’s office, hospital or health plan to request health information in the format they want (such as an electronic or paper copy).
- What further guidance, policies and educational materials would encourage consumers to request access to their health information and use that information to become more engaged in their health care?
- How can the federal government encourage consumers to become more comfortable asking questions and communicating electronically with providers about their health information?
- What further guidance, policies and educational materials would enhance providers’ ability to give their patients better access to their records?
For other discussions about developing educational and training materials, see
§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.