The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) created the means for all citizens to secure health insurance with minimal essential coverage. The Obama administration also wants to improve health outcomes by increasing patient engagement. A cornerstone of this agenda is patient access to electronic health records (EHRs).
Consumers Want EHR With Mobile Access
In a September 2014 consumer survey conducted by Harris Poll, 57 percent of Americans said they’d be much more interested and proactive in their healthcare with online access to their medical records. Of those who have never attempted online access, a third of the respondents were not even aware that this capability existed.
Baby Boomers account for the highest percentage (83 percent) of participants who use or would use medical information online. This finding is not surprising given that two-thirds of older Americans have chronic conditions for which regular communication with healthcare providers is necessary. EHR access enables them to schedule appointments, check on medications, view test results, and communicate with their physicians securely. By moving to mobile technology, they could get reminders to take their medications at designated times and record health indicators to monitor chronic conditions. Phone apps are already available to capture glucose levels for patients with diabetes and heart rates for cardiac patients. When transmitted to physicians, these metrics provide early warnings of impending problems.
Millennials do not need to be convinced of the value of mobile access to their health records. Forty-three percent of them expressed a desire to access their patient portals with their SmartPhones. Beyond perusing their EHR, they want personalized recommendations to improve their health (44 percent), information about service offerings (44 percent), and relevant healthcare news (23 percent).
Physicians have already jumped on the mobile bandwagon. According to a 2015 survey by Black Book Market Research, 52 percent of practitioners access patient records and/or reference data from their mobile devices. The highest penetration of usage came from emergency physicians, radiologists, OB/GYN, general surgeons and orthopedic surgeons.
Financial Incentives Encourage EHR
Incentive payments are available to eligible professionals and hospitals when they can demonstrate “meaningful use” of certified EHR technology. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) set the standards for “meaningful use” based on the following objectives:
- Improve care coordination
- Reduce healthcare disparities
- Engage patients and their families
- Improve population and public health
- Ensure adequate privacy and security
Stage 1 standards focus on requirements that assure meaningful access to information at the patient level. Stage 2 addresses the electronic exchange of information among healthcare providers. Stage 3 will emphasize submission of clinical quality and other metrics to assess the efficacy of healthcare interventions. Strict criteria govern the release of federal and state incentive payments – including the extent to which practitioners can prove that their patients actually use their portals!
A parallel effort called the “Blue Button Initiative” sets technical standards to define secure download of health records electronically. When patients see the familiar logo on a website, they’ll know that their provider supports structured data formats and transmission protocols that maintain privacy of their information while interoperating with third party applications that use the data. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) provides oversight of the standard. Hundreds of organizations have already committed to adopting it.
What You Should Do
With vendors and independent application developers hard at work to meet these standards, there should be no shortage of technology to meet rising consumer demand and qualify for government incentives. Here are a few actions that you should consider for your practice:
1. Take inventory of your current technology and communications infrastructure.
Assess your ability to meet emerging EHR standards as well as mobile access. Find out what capabilities you can support today, and what features are available for an upgrade. Be sure to address data security and privacy as these remain critical concerns for your patients and your practice. If you don’t have something currently in place, think about action items to help you implement an EHR.
2. Assess your resources.
Should you need to make a technology investment, focus on vendors with substantive industry experience as well as solid reputations for customer support. Consider working with a subject matter expert to define your requirements, evaluate alternatives, and create a detailed project plan.
3. Develop processes internally to promote your EHR services.
Use this effort as a vehicle to establish stronger relationships with your patients and encourage them to take more responsibility for their health. Be prepared to respond to patients questions as they get acclimated to accessing their EHRs.
When used to best advantage by all concerned, EHR will improve patient outcomes, lower healthcare costs, and improve patient satisfaction. That’s an agenda that we can all get behind!
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