There’s a difference between education and promotion

ONC is currently preparing to expand its efforts at educating the public about the advantages of EHRs, but as they develop their outreach program policymakers need to ensure that the information they’re delivering is actually useful.

At a recent meeting of the Consumer Consortium on eHealth, ONC director Dr. Farzad Mostashari “emphasized the importance of patients’ access to their information from their provider to share it with whomever they wish . . .”

That’s obviously a widely shared goal of HIT proponents, and we’ve suggested more than once that the ultimate success of the HIT transition probably relies on patients asking ever more consistently for access to their health information.

The question for policymakers, though, is what constitutes real and valuable information for patients when it comes to understanding the use and value of EHRs?

For example, take this video recently released by ONC. Not surprisingly, it paints a very positive picture of the potential of EHRs. The problem is, that picture is years away from being a reality. Moreover, the testimony of the diabetes patient notwithstanding, there isn’t much practical information for patients to consider and put to use.

It may be that direct federal efforts at public outreach will never be much more than broad-based promotional pieces pointing to the potential benefits of EHRs, but policymakers might want to consider a potential downside to this approach. After all, given that, other than two speakers, the commenters are all past or present public officials with a stake or interest in current programs, it’s hard not to view the piece as, at least on one level, a soft political pitch for ongoing administration efforts, rather than a piece designed to provide a detailed introduction to EHRs.

The point is, it is incumbent on policymakers tasked with developing and managing specific proactive programs to be focused first and foremost on making those programs work as effectively as possible. There is indeed a need to educate the public, but when policymakers slip into the role of teacher, they need to make sure they’re delivering information that is actually of use to patients, and not simply a re-articulation of policy goals or a semi-conscious plug for the continuation of specific programs.