HHS Consumer Health IT Summit power-charged for progress

By Diana Manos
11:25 PM

Sept. 12 was a big day for healthcare IT. Federal officials hosted a consumer health IT summit, jam-packed with new initiatives to advance HIT. The event was charged with a wave of energy toward grass roots change, specifically supporting patient-centered care.

The summit, held at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. was part of the Sixth National Health IT Week, a collaborative event hosted by the Health Information and Management Systems Society.

Obama declares National Health IT Week, Sept. 11-16

President Barack Obama proclaimed   on Monday, in conjunction with the summit, that Sept. 11-16 would officially be federally recognized as National Health IT week going forward.

Farzad Mostashari, MD, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, who moderated the summit, emphasized the new exciting times healthcare IT now faces. "It now costs nearly nothing to share ideas instantaneously with anyone, anywhere," he said. "This is changing our world, and healthcare."

 "Patients have that right to access their health information," Mostashari added. "We are here today to make it easy for them to have that right."

 Sebelius reports 80,000 providers signed up for MU

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said healthcare IT will allow Americans to be part of their own healthcare. "I want to welcome you all to the conversation," she told the audience.

Sebelius reported that progress is moving rapidly, with 80,000 providers signed up to receive incentives for the meaningful use of electronic health records as of this week.

Seventy percent of the physicians targeted by the regional extension centers (RECs) a federal program to help guide providers in adopting healthcare IT have signed on for help. Rural states have been particularly eager to work with the RECs, Sebelius said, with Nebraska showing nearly every provider signed on.

 "The potential for patients in this change is enormous," she added.

 HHS proposes to allow patients direct access to lab results

As part of that change, HHS released a proposed rule on Monday that would allow patients access to their lab results directly from the lab.

 "That's a big deal," Sebelius said, because every year many test results never get to the patient. She added that keeping the information secure will be paramount.

Patients have the right to access their EHR, civil rights official says

Federal leaders emphasized the importance of getting patients involved in their own care, starting with access to electronic health records.

 "Patients are the most underutilized resource for healthcare," Mostashari said.

Don Berwick, MD, CMS administrator, asked: "Why would we not use all the knowledge available? Why would we waste a bit of it?" Patients are the experts of their own healthcare, and doctors are the coaches, he added. "Caregivers are the guests in [patients'] lives," he said.

Mostashari said ONC has heard some reservations on the part of some physicians to give patients access to their electronic medical records.

Leon Rodriquez, director of the HHS Office of Civil clarified the situation. "Patient can have access to their records, under HIPAA," he said.

 Blue Button gains widespread support

Federal officials also announced that the Blue Button program  launched by the Veterans Health Administration, is now going mainstream. It has extended its reach beyond the VA and is now supported by healthcare providers and health plans, with availability already extended to millions of Americans.

The Obama Administration announced the Blue Button capability in August 2010. It was developed by CMS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense and the Markle Foundation. 

With the click of a blue button, users of the program can share a simple version of their healthcare information with trusted parties.

The U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park named the current sponsors of Blue Button, which included Kaiser Permanente, McKesson, Microsoft Healthvault, Aetna, United Health Group, the state of Indiana and others.

After the announcement, Chopra chanted, "Grassroots change!"

"I'm proud of Blue Button Initiative," Berwick said. "It is an iconic wonderful idea. The Blue Button isn't just valuable, it's magic. It's the open sesame button that will open the door to a whole new level of care."

Peter Levin, senior advisor and CTO for Veteran Affairs, said the Blue Button is not a full comprehensive medical record, "but it's infinitely better than nothing at all."

He called the Blue Button "a liquid, liberated model that puts patients at the center."

Patient privacy rights activists were not represented among the speakers at the summit. 

ONC releases standardized notice for PHR vendors

Mostashari also announced the release of a new PHR model privacy notice, already embraced by Microsoft, Dossia and NoMoreClipboard.

The model is intended to be a tool to allow PHR vendors to share their privacy policies in an understandable, uniform way for consumers, he said. "It is a Web-based approach that can reinforce consumer trust," he said. The model was developed by HHS with the FTC.

[See related articles: Fall brings health IT activity to Washington, Mostashari to providers: MU is not about 'hoop jumping'.]

Follow Diana Manos on Twitter @DManos_IT_News.