Electronic Health Records

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Bipartisan Committee: Increase patient engagement using eHealth tools

By Jennifer Bresnick

- The Bipartisan Policy Committee, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that aims to provide policy solutions for major national problems, has released a report on patient engagement and the adoption of electronic health tools.  Dividing these tools into four categories, the authors of the report assert that online resources “can be effectively leveraged to expand and increase the effectiveness of patient engagement”, which will be a significantly challenging requirement in Stage 2 Meaningful Use.

The Policy Committee categorizes electronic health tools with a mind towards consumer education and self-care, dividing the efforts into electronic educational resources, interactive electronic tools, online communities, and personal health records (PHRs), which are maintained by the patient himself.  Eighty percent of patients have already looked online at educational materials to learn more about conditions and lifestyle information, while 27% have used online interactive tools to track their weight, diet, exercise, or some other indicator of good health.

PHRs, however, have not enjoyed such widespread acceptance.  Only 7% to 11% of Americans have created and accessed a PHR.  Even though patients who use a PHR are shown to be more engaged in their care – 32% of users report that using a PHR has led them to take action to improve their health – security concerns, lack of internet access, and limited connectivity to provider resources are common barriers to adoption.  Providers are also concerned about patient-created records.  In one survey, 85% of physicians say they are concerned that PHRs may lack critical information, and 89% believe that incorrect information may negatively affect a patient’s care.

However, interaction with the healthcare system, including secure messaging with a provider and access to downloadable EHR records, faces fewer qualms.  Of the 26% of patients who have online access to their EHRs, 80% take advantage of the capability.  Three-quarters of patients are interested in going online to view their health information, with more than half willing to use smartphones to do so, but only 41% of providers currently offer the capability.  Secure messaging is similarly widespread, with 62% of patients already communicating with their doctors through email, text messaging, or patient portals.

“While consumers indicate interest in using electronic tools to interact with their health care providers and organizations, many are limited in their ability to do so, because their providers have not yet adopted these tools,” say the report’s authors.  “Clinicians express concern that widespread use of consumer-facing electronic tools will require them to manage an inflow of unexpected or unsolicited data from patients—a concern that many providers say is unfounded.”

READ MORE: Will Senate Bill Help to End the EHR Incentive Programs?

Regardless of provider concerns, any physician who wishes to qualify for Stage 2 Meaningful Use incentives will need to implement a patient engagement system by 2014.  Providers will be required to provide educational resources to at least 10% of patients, and entice 5% of patients to view, download, or share their online health records.  Many providers are daunted by these requirements, but studies seem to show a willingness among many patient populations to take an active role in their care.

In order to close the adoption gap and increase patient participation, the Policy Committee makes the following recommendations:

Build awareness of the benefits of eHealth tools among clinicians, hospitals, and other providers.  Getting practices to offer the tools is the first step towards getting patients to use them.  When physicians are educated about the proper use of eHealth and the positive effect online resources have on their patents, they are more likely to become enthusiastic about their adoption and help spread the word.

Develop standards, policies, and best practices for electronic patient engagement tools.  Implementing patient portal systems, secure messaging, and PHRs may be difficult for providers, but creating a plan can help.  As the federal government and private sector groups ramp up their patient engagement efforts ahead of Stage 2, standards and strategies for implementation will emerge, guiding providers towards the best resources and strategies for building their repertoire of online tools.

Educate consumers about eHealth benefits, privacy, and safety.  Many patients are simply unaware of what their providers offer.  Many more have misconceptions about how secure and private their interactions might be.  Expanding educational efforts and informing the public on the use of eHealth tools will help elucidate the benefits of online systems, and aid physicians in meeting Stage 2 patient engagement requirements.

READ MORE: Industry Experts Provide Meaningful Use Summaries, Analysis

Increase federal, state, and private sector incentives for the adoption of electronic tools.  The Bipartisan Policy Committee recommends more financial incentives to encourage the spread of eHealth tools, asking the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to further promote and support the initiatives through their payment reform efforts.  BPC encourages state leaders to follow suit, while urging private sector health plans to promote electronic tools on the consumer side.  Employers who offer health benefits can also help by making their workers aware of the availability of electronic health resources, and offer incentives for obtaining preventative care and participating in wellness programs.

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