Consumer interest presents educational opportunities

By Jeff Rowe
07:34 AM

One of the questions long underlying the HIT transition is the “field of dreams” question: If you build EHRs, will the people come?

This long-time observer reviews a number of recent consumer surveys and answers with a fairly resounding “Yes”.

For starters, she cites a 2011 Intuit poll in which three-quarters of respondents said they “would use a secure online tool to make it easier to communicate with the doctor's office . . . Furthermore, one-half of those interested in online access to doctors would consider switching doctors to one whose office offered secure online access.”

She goes on to note, “If people could securely connect with doctors, Intuit found, 51% would ask care-related questions. Thus, interest in online connections with doctors' offices goes well beyond appointment scheduling (the top-desired electronic function, with 81% saying they would use it), prescription requests (68%), obtaining lab results (62%), completing medical forms (59%), and reviewing and paying bills online (53%).”

She then points to another survey, from Dell, in which “three out of four people said they would like ‘EHRs to be shared between [their] physician, hospital’ and other health care providers. Furthermore, seven in 10 people would like to be able to email with their doctor, and 61% want access to their personal health record through a Web portal or private website.”

She goes on to discuss privacy concerns, but rather than follow along we’d like to suggest that surveys like this may provide policymakers with a means of educating the public about the opportunities and challenges of new HIT. After all, each of the activities of interest to consumers – prescription requests, obtaining lab results, etc. – brings with it an array of benefits, but also, at times, a number of legal or technological challenges.

So why not use the categories articulated in these surveys as a template, of sorts, for educating the public?

As it stands, apparently, policymakers are primarily hoping “will be inspired to engage in health IT once landing on the new website. According to Peter Garrett of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, the website ‘lets personal stories fuel the national movement toward adoption of EHRs. It puts the 'I' in Health IT.’”

Personal stories are nice, but as we’ve noted before there’s a difference between promoting the use of EHRs and educating the public about both the benefits and the challenges that accompany them. We’re not suggesting the public should be viewed as a nationwide community of potential policy wonks, but the goal of HIT stakeholders and proponents is to use HIT to change the way the healthcare system works.

Helping the public understand the complexity of that change, at least in broad strokes, will help everyone in the long run.


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