Moving Forward on Health IT

by | Jul 19, 2013 | Digital Health

Delay access to health information you need now?  Pause efforts to ensure that an emergency room can get your medical data from your doctor immediately, if the need arises?  Patients and consumers say no.

At the Senate Committee on Finance hearing on Wednesday, some asked whether we should pause or delay or even reboot efforts to bring America’s health information system into the 21st century—from silos of paper into secure, electronic exchange as needed anytime, anywhere.  The National Partnership for Women & Families has already documented why today’s patients and consumers do not want and cannot afford delay in critical access to their health data. Two recent developments punctuate the point.

Last week, those of us working to advance health information technology (health IT) got some good news when the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) released its annual report on the status of health IT adoption in the United States.  The report confirms that health care providers are making significant progress in building our country’s health IT infrastructure.  

In 2012, 44 percent of hospitals reported they had adopted and used a basic electronic health record (EHR) system.  This represents a marked jump in the HIT adoption rate – an increase of 17 percent from 2011 to 2013. Doctors reported similar numbers, with 38 percent reporting the adoption and use of an EHR in 2012.  

Further, the report details steady progress with more hospitals and providers using health IT at a higher level, for more than just basic functions. They are using the EHR to improve the quality of care, reduce health disparities, and/or improve communication and engagement with its patients.  In 2012, 42 percent of hospitals reported they had implemented all of the functionalities necessary to meet the stage 1 standards of the federal “meaningful use program.” 

When you look at the whole picture, you see just how far our nation’s providers have come since enactment of the HITECH Act in 2009, which provided the first significant incentives for providers to adopt health IT. From 2010 to 2012, the share of hospitals with at least a basic EHR has almost tripled.  In a system as large and complex as the U.S. health care system, this progress is significant.  

These new numbers are welcome news not just for the HIT community, but for the patients, families, and caregivers who interact with our health care system every day. The universal adoption and meaningful use of HIT is central to efforts to reform how our entire system delivers care and to reduce health disparities.  

While all of these numbers taken together demonstrate substantial progress in HIT adoption and usage, there are certainly areas for improvement. One that’s very important is expanding patients’ access to their health data.  The RWJF report revealed that patients’ access to their health information in their doctors’ EHRs—one of the objectives for stage 2 meaningful use—so far is not being implemented broadly. The adoption and use of health IT cannot fully succeed or drive the systemic change our health care system needs unless patients are able to access their health information and use it as a tool to engage their providers.  

Which brings me to the second recent development.  On Thursday, the day after the Senate Finance Committee hearing, the Consumer Empowerment Workgroup of the HIT Policy Committee heard presentations about successes that went beyond patient access to patient sharing of health information with their doctors and hospitals.  We call that patient-generated health information—such as sharing one’s family health history which the doctor cannot know otherwise, or sharing blood pressure measurements from home, or requesting corrections to the doctor’s health record.  And when patients have electronic access to their health information in their doctors’ records, and can provide relevant updates back, we call that partnership.

The National Partnership has been leading the charge to help ensure that patients’ voices are prominent in the transition to health IT. The need to expand patient, family, and caregiver access and engagement underscores the urgency to do just that.