Health IT will transform how patients receive educational resources


Gena Cook

Navigating Cancer

In our digital focus month, Gena Cook discusses the benefits of Health IT and how it will transform the way patients receive educational resources in the future.

As a result of new federal regulations, the majority of healthcare providers in the US will be required to identify patient-specific education resources utilizing certified electronic health record (EHR) technology, and provide those resources to their patients. While some EHRs will identify patient-specific resources and leave it to the physician to provide paper copies of these resources, best-of-breed systems will go a step further and host digital versions of patient education that can be delivered to patients automatically via their provider’s patient portal. This will present pharma brands with a new and unrivalled opportunity to deliver digital patient education directly to patients via their physician when they are most interested in receiving it.

Regulations overview

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) jump-started the US healthcare system to begin a transformative shift from paper to electronic health records. As part of ARRA, the HITECH Act set aside $19 billion in provider incentives to adopt health IT and implement it in a meaningful way to improve care coordination and engage patients and families in their care.


"This will present pharma brands with a new and unrivalled opportunity to deliver digital patient education directly to patients..."


The HITECH Act outlines 25 specific Meaningful Use rules that providers must meet to qualify for the incentives. The objectives are to be implemented in three stages by 2015. In stage one, delivering patient-specific education resources is an optional objective, however in stages two and three it becomes required. The Stage 2 rules were recently finalized, and require that providers give patient-specific education resources identified by certified EHR technology to 10% of all unique patients1. The percentage will likely increase for stage three, but has yet to be finalized.

As of June 2012, over 48% of all eligible hospitals and 1 out of every 5 eligible professionals in the US has adopted a certified EHR system2.

Patients want educational resources to be more engaged in their care

Patients want to be more engaged in their care and are using the Internet to search for health information. In a 2008 study by the Pew Research Center, they found that 83% of Internet users have used the Internet to search for health information, making this activity the third most popular for all online adults3.

In a more recent survey, 77% of cancer patients expressed interest in reading cancer education materials from expert sources online. When asked about specific topics, 73% were interested in learning how to manage treatment side effects, and 66% were interested in learning more about treatment options4.


"Patients want to be more engaged in their care and are using the Internet to search for health information."


By providing patients with digital copies of educational resources that are specific to their condition, providers can give patients the information they are seeking in a format that is easy for them to share with friends and family. In addition, it can save them time from having to search for this information online, which can lead them to websites with questionable information and authority.

Using Health IT to identify and deliver the right information at the right time

Patient-specific educational resources will be identified by data that is entered into the EHR, including the patient’s problem list (diagnoses), medication list, or lab test results. The EHR isn’t required to store or deliver the resources to the patient, but should suggest resources that are specific to the patient’s condition based on the data stored in the EHR technology.

Most EHRs are designed to be a database for medical records, and have not been designed to communicate with and engage patients in their care, a primary goal of the HITECH Act. To provide patients and staff with a more user-friendly and efficient experience, many healthcare providers are also implementing stand alone patient portals that can be integrated with their EHR and their website. These patient portals act as the user-interface that connects patients to their providers, their own medical records, and educational resources that are specific to their diagnosis.


"Providing patients with personalized educational resources is the first step to empower them to be more engaged in their care."


Best-of-breed technology will automate the process so patient education can be delivered to patients once a diagnosis or other relevant health information has been entered into the EHR. This eliminates the need for providers to add an additional step to their workflow process, and ensures that patients will receive relevant and trusted educational resources from their provider in a timely manner.

Start planning your Health IT strategy

Health IT is a large part of healthcare reform and plays a central role not only in the HITECH Act, but also in new standards of care being recommended by professional organizations, and in new Accountable Care Organization (ACO) and Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) care models that are being piloted with providers and payers. The common denominator across all these programs is a more coordinated, patient centered approach to care that includes increased patient involvement and engagement. Providing patients with personalized educational resources is the first step to empower them to be more engaged in their care.

Pharma marketers should be thinking about their EHR and broader Health IT strategy and how they can integrate their patient education materials and programs into this new patient education process.






Previous article by 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

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11 September, 2012