For some of us, it will be hard not to take an increasingly vested interest in how our healthcare is administered considering the rapid changes sprung from the launch of The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) and subsequent meaningful use requirements. To tell you the truth, it’s about time that we started to get our hands on the healthcare data behemoth and put the information to good use to improve the quality of our lives and the lives of others. We can count ourselves lucky enough to live in an era where the healthcare industry is taking meticulous steps towards comprehensive and efficient electronic medical record systems to help create efficiencies and improve caregiver decisions and patient outcomes. Exciting times indeed.
What often isn’t discussed as a result of healthcare’s shift to electronic medical records and the subsequent availability of data once privy to selected eyes is, are we as patients ready for this change? What exactly will we do with all of the health data soon to be laid at our feet for review and analysis? After all, one of the benefits touted by the industry of greater patient accessibility to healthcare records is a rise in quality of care. In fact, according to an article from the Department of Health and Human Services, “we can use the health information ourselves to better communicate with providers and peers, better understand our health and treatment options, and make sure health information about us is as accurate and complete as possible.” Theoretically, improved communication and greater healthcare data accessibility will help to prevent potential medical errors which save lives and help to control the upward spiraling costs to deliver quality care.
Last year, survey results were released by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics indicating that most people who use the Internet for health information are non-Hispanic whites with a job, higher education and incomes. Largely attributed to easier access to the resources needed to research health related questions, logically we can assume that as healthcare moves to greater data accessibility, those of us who are lucky enough to have access to information could be the ones who benefit the most. However, lower income individuals, the demographic that arguably stands to gain the most from improved accessibility to health records and statistically shown to be the least likely to actually access these records, may have difficulty interpreting data once they are able to somehow retrieve it.
As the healthcare industry opens the floodgates to healthcare data accessibility, what steps are they taking to build tools that help increase record availability and educate patients on how to interpret and use the data they are provided? Clearly, patients play a vital role in the ultimate success of the industry shift to electronic medical records and meaningful use since understanding the history of disparate care is key for providers to piece together the complete patient treatment picture. With patients more willing to share their own healthcare information for the greater good of the whole, tools and resources on how to effectively manage and interpret this data need to be more highly advertised.