This is a big week for patient engagement, at least at a national level. To wit:
- President Obama proclaimed it Health IT Week.
- CMS released adjustments to HIPAA privacy rules and CLIA laboratory rules that make pathology results available directly to patients, instead of released via the physician who referred them.
- ONC, as part of a conference that aimed to get public and private stakeholders more involved “selling” health IT to patients, unveiled a well-done, freshened-up consumer-facing site that explains health IT and its value in terms even my non-IT-geek mom can understand.
To those of us inside the industry, implementing health IT and building a national health information infrastructure is a no-brainer. Do we really need to get consumers involved while physicians and IT folks are just getting started on its construction? Probably. Certainly, some patients — especially those with chronic disease or who live in rural settings, far from large hospitals — could benefit immediately from early adoption of technologies such as mobile health and telemedicine.
But really, it needs to get built first, and then sold. A few decades from now, our kids will be shaking their heads wondering why there were even arguments against health IT and HIE — sort of like how those of us 1980s kids thought people with the first mobile phones looked funny, like something out of Star Trek, yet by now many of us have long since disconnected our land lines in favor of one smartphone or another. Or how we’ve come to expect the ATMs eight states away will know our checking account balance same as the one eight blocks away. It…just…works. No one had to sell us on the infrastructure; they built it and we immediately saw its value.
Health IT will be the same, I predict. Patients will inherently understand the value after the thing gets built. It’s just getting there from here that looks to be a rocky road. Maybe all the little ONC pushes like Health IT Week might truly help spur its development and stoke consumer demand. Frankly, however, the federal government already gave at the office with the whole HITECH billions thing. It’s up to us in the private sector to finish what they started.