Consumer health informatics affect delivery of patient care: AHRQ

Consumer health informatics helps deliver better patient care, but barriers to use persist, according to research by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The value of consumer health informatics in caring for patients still is not fully understood, but research by a federal agency indicates health IT can improve the delivery of care to patients with some conditions.

Patient adherence to medication and outcomes for such conditions as diabetes might be better if health IT is used along with traditional types of care, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Still, not enough research has been conducted to determine the effect technology has on the cost of medical care, the agency concluded in its report, “Impact of Consumer Health Informatics Applications.”

The agency reviewed 162 studies that looked at a variety of technologies and tools -- for example, electronic messaging and interactive communication devices, such as electronic diaries or self-help booklets -- being used in clinical conditions as diverse as asthma and obesity. Researchers investigated the tools’ impact on patient health, as well as the barriers that providers and consumers might face in trying to use them.

The data the agency reviewed was difficult to standardize because the studies covered a wide range of applications and used different methods to collect information, the AHRQ said in its report. However, consumer technology does have a role to play in delivering health care.

The most effective uses of informatics were found in cases where IT was tailored and personalized for the individual and worked in conjunction with the physician’s orders. “While there may be a role for [consumer health informatics] applications to reach consumers at a low cost and obviate the need for some activities currently performed by humans, it is likely that a more important role is to enhance the efficacy of interventions currently delivered by humans,” the agency wrote.

Still, barriers to use exist. Consumers’ IT knowledge could be limited, and medical professionals see the use of IT as an interruption in their workflow, AHRQ said.

The funding for health IT implementation through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 seeks to boost the use of applications that might improve patient care, such as consumer health informatics. Maintaining medication lists and sharing information with patients electronically are among the meaningful use requirements established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in accordance with the stimulus law.

It can’t be something that slows us down.
Thomas Wolf M.D.Fremont, Neb.

Implementing those technologies does indeed help patients, according to presenters during a recent teleconference hosted by the eHealth Initiative. Developing a modular approach to implementing electronic health records (EHR) will help providers as they start to comply with the federal regulations, said Robert Mayes, a registered nurse who is senior adviser on health IT issues for AHRQ, during the teleconference. “We’re starting to see an alignment of incentives, he said.

That go-slow approach might mean doctors incorporate electronic prescribing before they go out to purchase a full EHR system, which can be a challenge for some practices, said Thomas Wolf, a physician in Fremont, Neb., during the teleconference. “It can’t be something that slows us down, he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Jean DerGurahian, News Writer.

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