The latest hearing held by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) resulted in more than the call to delay Stage 3 Meaningful Use. It also provided numerous methods that federal legislators and healthcare organizations can take to improve patient access to health information.
Each of the three witnesses offered insight into the barriers preventing patients from having timely access to their health information in a highly useable electronic form.
First up was Raj Ratwani, PhD, who serves as Scientific Director at National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare at MedStar Health and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine.
For Ratwani, the major issue surrounding patient access to health information is usability.
"Patients must have easy access to their health information to improve health outcomes, facilitate patient and family engagement in care, and to reduce safety risks. Critically, this information must be presented in a manner that is both understandable and useful," he stated in his opening remarks.
In comments specific to the critical nature of patient use of health IT, Ratwani identified three critical factors: access, functionality, and information quality.
Of the first, he noted that patients "should be able to easily access all of their health information, securely, and in one place" and that "interoperability is crucial to patient access."
Of the second, he emphasized the need for user-centered design when presenting health information to patients and making patient engagement a part of the clinician's workflow.
"The information and capabilities of the system must be useful for the patient," he stated. "The design of system capabilities, such as patient-provider communication, should be intelligently integrated with the workflow processes of the clinician so that the clinicians are able to support the patient in a timely manner."
Lastly, Ratwani tied to quality of information to its usefulness to patients. "Information must be accurate and meaningful to the patient, presented in a manner that can be easily understood, and that will help them gain insights," he added.
According to a second witness, Kathy Giusti, MBA, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, the potential of patient health IT to improve health outcomes hinges of EHR integration, aggregation, and sharing of data.
For Giusti, patient engagement begins with education to ensure that patients are aware of the tools available to them to help manage their own care. "Physicians, hospitals, advocacy organizations, and the government must ensure that patients are educated on how best to use the technology," shenoted.
EHR integration plays an important picture in enabling providers to have a complete picture of a patient's health at the point of care rather than having to access disparate sources of clinical data.
"The greatest efficiency will come from our ability to integrate EHRs across the vast number of specialized doctors and centers that patients now see," she maintained. "That data must be integrated into a centralized portal that we as patients feel like we own, share, update, and provide."
Giusti's final observation on patient access to health information centered on the importance of analyzing large stores of health information for research purposes, such as in her organization's work on cancer.
"The ability to understand, integrate, aggregate and analyze EHRs is on the critical path to improving outcomes and accelerating cures. We have shown the impact of data sharing in one uncommon, fatal disease," she closed.
The hearing's third witness shifted the focus of patient access to information to Congressional intervention. In his opening remarks, Intel Felllow and General Manager for Health and Life Sciences at Intel Corporation Eric Dishman called on Congress to do four things:
- Advance health IT standards and current interoperability initiatives
- Remove legal and financial obstacles to health data sharing and access
- Continue shift to value-based care models
- Eliminate social and economic barriers to health data access
Altogether, the testimony of three witnesses highlight the many moving pieces involved in ensuring patient access to health information.