Electronic Health Records

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NCQA says potential to engage patients with HIT “untapped”

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- Patient engagement enabled by health IT still has a ways to go in improving the quality and efficiency of care for consumers, but a framework is emerging to help providers leverage this technology in pursuit of the triple aim, according to a new report published by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA).

“Our results suggest that patient engagement enabled by health IT is a major, untapped opportunity (particularly among marginalized communities) with the potential to improve inefficient communication methods and change the dynamic of the relationship between the patient and the health care system,” state the authors of the research — Lyn Paget (Health Policy Partners), Claudia Salzberg (Johns Hopkins University), and Sarah Hudson Scholle (NCQA).

“Health IT tools for patient engagement are often disconnected from the health care system and in need of full integration across all opportunities for engagement,” they write. “Consumer trust must be fostered to alleviate patient and provider reluctance to use these tools. Although recognition of the value of engagement is growing, leadership and collaboration are necessary for sustained impact.”

A survey of healthcare industry stakeholders revealed six common themes of opportunities and challenges around health IT-related patient engagement:

1. Patient engagement is a major untapped opportunity, with the largest potential impact among marginalized communities.

2. Health IT design must be user-centric, starting from the needs and preferences of patients and families.

3. There is limited evidence to evaluate effectiveness of tools.

4. Patient-engagement health IT tools need to be integrated with the health care system.

5. Consumer trust needs to be fostered.

6. Leadership and collaboration are needed to create impact.

In order for healthcare organizations and providers to engage their patient populations effectively via health IT, the authors highlight the need for a cohesive strategy and recommend completing four activities:

1. Create a comprehensive statement of joint principles to advance the design, development and implementation of health IT tools that help achieve the Triple Aim.

2. Develop and implement an evaluation framework to target investment and support consumer choice.

3. Advance the development of a unified health data integration strategy that prioritizes engagement.

4. Demonstrate innovative uses of health IT for patient engagement.

Similar to the design of health IT systems and services for providers, patients and their families need tools well suited to their needs. Efforts such the Blue Button and requirements for patient engagement in Stage 2 Meaningful Use are examples of how health IT can improve care for both sides of the provider-patient relationship by increasing access. The challenge remains making this access user-friendly to different kinds of users.

“The core idea driving this report is that HIT should be designed around the needs and preferences of patients, and we hope our recommendations will have a substantial impact on how the health care system uses HIT,” NCQA President Margaret E. O’Kane said in a public statement. “NCQA is committed to creating consensus around important quality issues, and the question of how to link HIT and patient engagement is an area where a unified strategy is most needed.”

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