Engaging patients with health IT to improve the healthcare system

Gena Cook

Navigating Cancer

This afternoon we have an article from Navigating Cancer’s Gena Cook, about the future of healthcare with regards to the ongoing changes in technology. Gena discusses the importance of electronic access to patient health records, not only so as to improve patient care, but also to improve the patient / physician relationship.

The U.S. healthcare system is undergoing a major transformation with patients at the center of this change. New care models and standards of care are emerging with the focus on patient-centered care and patient engagement. There are many factors driving this change. One strong voice leading the charge is the patient advocate community, who are demanding that patients have access to their health information.

Regina Holliday depicted it best when she spoke at the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) and Meaningful Use announcement in 2010 around the problems she and her husband Fred, while dealing with his cancer diagnosis, encountered in obtaining his health records. Regina is an artist, and painted a mural on Connecticut Avenue in Washington DC called 73 cents, which depicts her struggles in obtaining her husband’s incomplete and inaccurate medical record. After considerable challenges finding the right department to provide copies of her husband’s record, she was told it would cost them 73 cents per page. Regina’s access to her husband’s health record, although incomplete and inaccurate, helped her advocate on his behalf to improve his quality of life during the last few months of his life.

In part, because of Regina and other patient advocates, the government is now mandating that doctors provide patients with electronic access to their health record. The HITECH Act, which was a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, promotes the adoption and meaningful use of certified health information technology.


“In part, because of Regina and other patient advocates, the government is now mandating that doctors provide patients with electronic access to their health record.”


One of the five major goals of HITECH is focused on engaging patients and their families in their healthcare. As part of the HITECH Act, providers will be required to establish a different relationship with their patients, including providing digital access to their health information. Medical home models, new Accountable Care Organizations and the new American College of Surgeon Commission on Cancer standards also require various elements of patient-centered care and build on the requirements of HITECH.

To establish a new relationship with patients and to give patients electronic access to their health information, physicians are starting to implement patient portals. With the advent of patient portals, a new relationship can be forged to give patients access to a more personalized experience, including patient education and care management tools specific to their disease. In addition, by digitizing patient medical information the portal can make practices more efficient by reducing phone calls, faxes, and paper. Patients can now use technology to request, schedule and confirm appointments, pay bills and request prescription refills, which reduces clinic administrative burden while providing more convenience for patients,

This new relationship will not happen overnight, but is in progress. Over the coming years, new requirements will make it possible for patients and doctors to connect using online secure messaging, which has the ability to make the healthcare system more efficient and increase patient satisfaction. Over 75% of patients said they were interested in secure messaging with their doctor and healthcare team, in a recent survey1.

HITECH is just the beginning of this transformation. New programs are emerging that will enhance the relationship that physicians forge with their patients. Hospitals, community providers and payers are collaborating around new concepts like Patient Centered Medical Home and Accountable Care Organizations (ACO). The common denominator with all these trends is using technology to improve the healthcare delivery system, engage patients, and provide more patient-centered care.


“New programs are emerging that will enhance the relationship physicians forge with their patients.”


There is scepticism among some providers about a patient’s willingness and ability to be engaged. A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center found that reading health information is the third most popular online activity among all demographics, behind general search and email, accounting for 83% of all Internet users2. Other studies prove that patients have a strong desire to have electronic access to their health information – 74% of patients were interested in having access to their medical records securely online1.

Dr. Charles Safran, President, American Medical Informatics Association said it best at his 2004 testimony before the Subcommittee on Health, The House Committee on Ways and Means, “In our country, patients are the most underutilized resource, and they have the most at stake. They want to be involved and they can be involved. Their participation will lead to better medical outcomes at lower costs with dramatically higher patient-customer satisfaction3.”

We are all patients at the end of the day. Health IT and these new rules and legislation will alter the relationship we have with our physicians in the coming years. The change will happen over time, but we will start to receive personalized information that will allow us to be more informed and ultimately better participants in our own care.


1. Survey conducted by Navigating Cancer in 2012 (exact number is 77%) http://www.navigatingcancer.com/blog/patient-engagement-survey-results/

2. http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Generations-2010/Activities/All-age-groups.aspx

3. http://waysandmeans.house.gov/media/transcript/9897.html#Safran

For more from Gena Cook :

• Engaging patients with health IT to improve the healthcare system



About the author:

Gena Cook is Founder and CEO of Navigating Cancer, a leading provider of oncology specific patient portals to some of the largest and most influential oncology practices. She has published guest articles in leading oncology publications and has spoken at national community oncology events.

Gena has over 19 years of healthcare experience, with 17 years directly in the cancer field. She currently serves on the NCCN (National Comprehensive Cancer Network) Foundation Board and the Oncology Nursing Society ONS:Edge Board. Previously she served as VP of Sales and Marketing for McKesson Specialty Solutions and Oncology Therapeutics Network (OTN). She can be reached at gena@navigatingcancer.com.

How can we improve patient / physician engagement?