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Struggling to Understand our Data Does Not Equal Empowerment

By John Moore
09:14 AM

Recently upon leaving my doctor’s office I was presented with a print-out of my visit summary. Knowing I worked it the HIT space my doctor proudly stated that this was one the ways that they planned to meet one of the menu objectives of Stage One meaningful use (MU). This is great I thought, until I began looking over that visit summary.

A significant portion of the summary listed the basics such as who I was, why I paid them a visit etc., all pretty boiler plate – nothing new. Then I turned the page to see the lab results of the routine blood-work – YIKES! nothing but acronyms, values and acceptable ranges. I think I was able to decipher about 10% of those lab results and I work in this industry! I can only imagine how difficult and mind-numbing these figures may appear to an “ordinary” patient/consumer.

So seeing some out of range values I began asking my doctor:

What does this acronym stand? Why is this out of range? Is this something I need to worry about?

Being the great doctor that he is, he took the time to explain my results (some of those out of range values are the result of meds) but also expressed a certain level of frustration stating: “I’m not a big fan of passing this information on to a patient for I worry that they won’t understand results such as these and then I need to take time out to walk the patient through their results which can be quite time consuming. Is this another contributor to physician burnout I wondered?

Now I am all for patient/consumer empowerment and do believe that providing patient’s access to their personal health information (PHI) as a critical component of such empowerment. But does providing a patient a visit summary really empower them or does it simply make them confused (as I was) and resigned or worse endanger?

Stage 2 meaningful use rules released last week state that an eligible physician or hospital will be required to:

Use Certified EHR Technology to identify patient-specific education resources and provide those resources to the patient.

But what will that “patient-specific education resource” look like? Will it solve the problem I encountered?

I want more than a generic here is what these type of acronyms and values mean that litter the internet. I want personalization. I want a system that will take my lab results, my problem list, match it up with my meds, allergies etc. and provide me with personalized knowledge of what these results mean to me and my future health. I then want to be provided suggestions as to how to improve those values? This is what I see as true patient/consumer empowerment.

Unfortunately, what I have actually experienced as a result of this grand HITECH effort under Stage One falls far short of empowerment, if anything, it is closer to disempowerment.

Getting a bunch of data in a visit summary without putting it into context is not meaningful, it is meaningless.

My hope is that there are some novel, creative solutions now being developed that will leverage the new concept in Stage Two, the Base EHR, and provide a module that automatically digs into a patient’s PHI and presents the patient with an empowering visit summary. This is one of the ultimate intents of the HITECH Act, I now want to see it happen.


John Moore blogs regularly at Chilmark Research.