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GAO: HHS Should Tighten Up Its Patient Data Access Efforts

Posted on March 23, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

The Government Accountability Office has issued a new report arguing, essentially, that while its heart is in the right place, HHS isn’t doing enough to track the effectiveness of patient health data access efforts. The report names ONC as arguably the weakest link here, and calls on the HHS-based organization to track its outreach programs more efficiently.

As readers know, CMS has spent a vast sum of money (over $35 billion at this point) to support health IT adoption and health data access. And while these efforts have spilled over to some patients, it’s still an uphill battle getting the others to access their electronic health information, the GAO report says.

Moreover, even patients that are accessing data face some significant challenges, including the inability to aggregate their longitudinal health information from multiple sources into a single, accessible record, the agency notes. (In other words, patients crave interoperability and data integration too!)

Unfortunately, progress on this front continues to be slow. For example, after evaluating data from the 2015 Medicare EHR Program, GAO researchers found that few patients were taking a look at data made available by their participating provider. In fact, while 88 percent of the program’s hospitals gave patients access to data, only 15 percent of patients actually accessed the information which was available.  When professionals provided patients with data access, the number of patients accessing such data climbed to 30 percent, but that’s not as big a delta as it might seem, given that 87 percent of such providers offered patient data access.

Patient reluctance to dive in to their EHI may be in part due to the large number of differing portals offered by individual providers. With virtually every doctor and hospital offering their own portal version, all but the most sophisticated patients get overwhelemed. In addition to staying on top of the information stored in each portal, patients typically need to manage separate logins and passwords for each one, which can be awkward and time-consuming.

Also, the extent of data hospitals and providers offer varies widely, which may lead to patient confusion. The Medicare EHR Program requires that participants make certain information available – such as lab test results and current medications – but less than half of participating hospitals (46 percent) and just 54 percent of healthcare professionals routinely offered access to clinician notes.

The process for sharing out patient data is quite variable as well. For example, two hospitals interviewed by the GAO had a committee decide which data patients could access. Meanwhile, one EHR vendor who spoke with the agency said it makes almost all information available to patients routinely via its patient portal. Other providers take the middle road. In other words, patients have little chance to adopt a health data consumption routine.

Technical access problems and portal proliferation pose significant enough obstacles, but that’s not the worst part of the story. According to the GAO, the real problem here is that ONC – the point “man” on measuring the effectiveness of patient data access efforts – hasn’t been as clear as it could be.

The bottom line, for GAO, is that it’s time to figure out what enticements encourage patients to access their data and which don’t. Because the ONC hasn’t developed measures of effectiveness for such patient outreach efforts, parent agency HHS doesn’t have the information needed to tell whether outreach efforts are working, the watchdog agency said.

If ONC does improve its methods for measuring patient health data access, the benefits could extend beyond agency walls. After all, it wouldn’t hurt for doctors and hospitals to boost patient engagement, and getting patients hooked on their own data is step #1 in fostering engagement. So let’s hope the ONC cleans up its act!

E-Patient Update:  Portal Confusion Undermines Patient Relationships

Posted on February 3, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

I’m not surprised that some medical practice staffers and doctors seem uncomfortable with their EMR system and portal. After all, they’re not IT experts, and smaller practices might not even have any full-time IT staffers to help. That being said, if they hope to engage patients with their healthcare, they need to do better.

I’m here to argue that training staff and doctors to help patients with portal use is not only feasible, it’s important to customer service, care quality and ultimately a practice’s ability to manage populations. If you accept the notion that patients must engage with their health, you can’t leave their data access to chance. Everyone who works with patients must know the basics of portal access, or at least be able to direct the patient immediately to someone that can help.

Start with the front line

If I have problems with accessing a practice portal, the first person I’m likely to discuss it with is someone on the front lines, either via the phone or during a visit. But front office staffers seldom seem to know Thing One about the portal, including how to access it or even where to address a complaint if I have one.  But I think practices should do at least the following:

* Train at least one front-desk staffer on how to access the portal, what to do when common problems occur and how to use the portal’s key functions. Training just one champion is probably enough for smaller practices.

* Create a notebook in which such staffers log patient complaints (and solutions if they have one). This will help the practice respond and address any technical issues that arise, as well making sure they don’t lose track of any progress they’ve made.

* Every front desk staffer (and every doctor) should have a paper handout at hand which educates patients on key portal functions, as well as the name of the champion described above.  Also, the practice should provide the same information on a page of their site, allowing a staffer to simply email the link to patients if the patient is calling in with questions.

* All doctors should know about the champion(s), and be ready to offer their name and number to patients who express concerns about EMR/portal access. They should also keep the handout in their office and share it when needed.

Honestly, I don’t regard any of these steps as a big deal. In fact, I see them as little more than common sense. But I haven’t encountered a single community practice that does any of them, or even pursued their own strategies for educating patients on their portal.

Maximizing your investment

For those reading this who think these steps – or your own version – are too much trouble, think again. There’s plenty of reason to follow through on patient portal support.  After all, if nothing else, you’ve probably spent a ton of money on your EMR and portal, so why not maximize the value it offers?

Also, you don’t want to frustrate patients needlessly when a little bit of preparation and education could make such a difference. Maybe this wasn’t the case even a few years ago, but today, I’d submit, helping patients access their data is nothing more than good customer service. Given the competition every provider faces, why would you ignore a clear opportunity to foster patient loyalty?

Bear in mind that a little information goes a long way with patients like me. You don’t have to write a book to satify me – you just have to help me succeed. Just tell me what to do and I’ll be happy. So don’t miss a chance to win me over!

The Digital Health Biography: There’s A New Record In Town

Posted on January 18, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Few of us would argue that using EMRs is not a soul-sucking ordeal for many clinicians. But is there any alternative in sight? Maybe so, according to Robert Graboyes and Dr. Darcy Nikol Bryan, who are touting a new model they’ve named a “digital health biography.”

In a new article published in Real Clear Health, Graboyes, an economist who writes on technology, and Bryan, an OB/GYN, argue that DHBs will be no less than “an essential component of 21st century healthcare.” They then go on to describe the DHB, which has several intriguing features.

Since y’all know what doctors dislike (hate?) about EMRs, I probably don’t need to list the details the pair shares on why they generate such strong feelings. But as they rightly note, EMRs may take away from patient-physician communication, may be unattractively designed and often disrupt physician workflow.

Not only that, they remind us that third parties like insurance companies and healthcare administrators seem to get far more benefits from EMR content than clinicians do. Over time, data analytics efforts may identify factors that improve care, which eventually benefits clinicians, but on a transactional level it’s hard to dispute that many physicians get nothing but aggravation from their systems.

So what makes the DHB model different? Here’s how the authors lay it out:

* Patients own the DHB and data it contains
* Each patient should have only one DHB
* Patient DHBs should incorporate data from all providers, including PCPs, specialists, nurse practitioners, EDs, pharmacists and therapists
* The DHB should incorporate data from wearable telemetry devices like FitBits, insulin pumps and heart monitors
* The DHB should include data entered by patients, including family history, recollections of childhood illness, fears and feelings
* DHB data entry should use natural language rather than structured queries whenever possible
* The DHB should leverage machine learning to extract and organize output specific to specific providers or the patient
* In the DHB model, input and output software are separated into different categories, with vendors competing for both ends separately on functionality and aesthetics
* Common protocols should minimize the difficulty and cost of shifting from one input or output vendor to the other
* The government should not mandate or subsidize any specific vendors or data requirements
* DHB usage should be voluntary, forcing systems to keep proving their worth or risk being dumpted
* Clinical applications shouldn’t be subservient to reimbursement considerations

To summarize, the DHB model calls for a single, patient-controlled, universal record incorporating all available patient health data, including both provider and patient inputs. It differ significantly from existing EMR models in some ways, particularly if it separated data input from output and cut vendors out of the database business.

As described, this model would eliminate the need for separate institutions to own and maintain their own EMRs, which would of course stand existing health IT structures completely on their head. Instead of dumping information into systems owned by providers, the patient would own and control the DHB, perhaps on a server maintained by an independent intermediary.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which providers would be willing to give up control to this great an extent, even if this model was more effective. Still, the article makes some provocative suggestions which are worth discussing. Do you think this approach is viable?

Slick Setups to Make Your Health Clinic’s Processes Simple

Posted on December 26, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Eileen O’Shanassy.

Medical technologies have come a long way since the days of manual appointment and check-in books, clip-board health information, gathering forms, and huge patient medical chart walls. Today, health clinics can enjoy far more simple and efficient processes with only a few changes to traditional methods of providing healthcare. Consider these following four easy-to-use and inexpensive technologies for your own health clinic.

Touchscreen Check-In Desks
You do not have to pay your front office staff any longer to check in patients. With this slick setup, a patient walks up to a desk that features a wide, large LCD monitor located inside the waiting room or near the receptionist’s desk. Instructions at this touchscreen check-in desk explain to the patient that they only need to tap the screen and then tap out the letters of their name using large virtual buttons to check themselves into your clinic. In some clinics that offer a variety of diagnostic and treatment services, patients also select a clinic area.

Health Information Kiosks
A lot of front office staff time is wasted every day providing patients with information that is already available on your clinic’s website or local affiliated health system’s site. With the slick setup of a health information kiosk, your front office staff can direct patients to the kiosk and return to other tasks. Beyond information about the services offered at your clinic and local healthcare systems, health information kiosks can also be set up to provide patients local news and weather conditions, health and safety tips, emergency alerts, and even details about local restaurants and businesses.

Identification Scanning Software
One of the slowest processes at a clinic with new patients is establishing a record that contains accurate personal and health information. Some healthcare systems now provide clinics with the ability to quickly access information about patients already in their medical data storage programs. This is done electronically via scanning software that can be used with a patient’s driver’s license, medical insurance card, or a special system healthcare card. This type of slick setup also makes it possible for your clinic to save important information about a patient who is entirely new to the area and share it with local specialists and their staff members in hospital and other facilities.

These are only a few examples of the types of slick setups that can make traditional processes in your health clinic simple. These and other cutting edge methods can also result in positive testimonials that attract more new patients to your clinic.

About Eileen O’Shanassy
Eileen O’Shanassy is a freelance writer and blogger based out of Flagstaff, AZ. She writes on a variety of topics and loves to research and write. She enjoys baking, biking, and kayaking. Check out her Twitter @eileenoshanassy. For more information on medical data storage and new technology check out Health Data Archiver.

E-Patient Update: Patient-Doctor Communication Still Needs an Update

Posted on December 2, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A few weeks ago, I called my PCP’s after-hours line to address an urgent medical concern. The staff at the answering service took my name, reached out to the doctor on call and when he was ready, connected him to me.

While this procedure was entirely standard, as always I found it a bit offputting, as to me it implies that I can’t be trusted to use the doctor’s cell phone number with some discretion. Don’t get me wrong, part of me understands why the doctors in this practice preferred to preserve their privacy and select when they want to speak to patients. On the other hand, however, it makes me uneasy, as I already have a very superficial relationship with my PCP and this approach doesn’t help.

While this is very much an old-school problem, to me it points to a larger one which has largely gone unnoticed as we plunge forward with the evolution of health IT. In theory, we are living in a far more connected world, one which puts not only family and friends but the professionals we work with on far more of a one-to-one basis with us. In practice, however, I continue to feel that patient-doctor communication has benefited from this far less than one might think.

I know, you’re going to point out to me how many doctors are using portals to email with patients these days, and how some even text back and forth with us. I’ve certainly been lucky enough to benefit from the consideration of providers who have reached out via these channels to solve urgent problems. And I know some health organizations — such as Kaiser Permanente — have promoted a culture in which doctors and patients communicate frequently via its portal.

The thing is, I think Kaiser’s experience is the exception that proves the rule. Yes, my doctors have indeed communicated with me directly via portals or cell. But the email and text messages I’ve gotten from them are typically brief, almost pointillistic, or if longer and more detailed, typically written days or even weeks after the original request on my end. In other words, these communications aren’t a big improvement over what they could accomplish with an old-fashioned phone call – other than being asynchronous communication that doesn’t require we hook up in real-time.

In saying this, I’m not faulting the clinicians themselves. Nobody can communicate with everyone all the time, particularly doctors with a large caseload. And I’m certainly not suggesting that I expect them to be Facebook buddies with me and chat about the weather. But it is worth looking at the way in which these communication technologies have seemingly failed to enrich the communication between patient and doctor in many cases.

Until we develop a communication channel for patients and doctors which offers more of the benefits of real-time communication — while helping doctors manage their time as they see fit — I think much of the potential of physician-patient communication by Internet will be wasted. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I do hope we find one.

Portals May Not Reduce Calls To Medical Practices

Posted on November 16, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Initially, patient portals were rolled out to give patients access to their core medical information, with the hope that a more educated patient would be more likely to take care of their health. Over time, features like appointment setting and the ability to direct-email providers were added, with some backers predicting that they would make practices more efficient. And since providers began rolling out nifty new interactive portals, anecdotes have piled up suggesting that they are delivering the goods.

However, a new study suggests that this might not be the case — or at least not always. The researchers behind the study, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, had predicted that when patients got access to a full-featured portal, clinic staffers’ workload would be cut. But they did not achieve the results they had expected.

The researchers, who were from the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, compared portal adoption rates and the number of telephone calls received at four clinics affiliated with a university hospital between February and June 2014.

They found that despite growing adoption rates of the portal at all four clinics, call volumes actually increased at two of the clinics, which included a commercial, community-based health center and a university-based health center. Meanwhile, call volume stayed level at the two other clinics, a rural health center and a federally-qualified health center. In other words, in no case did the volume of phone calls fall.

The researchers attempted to explain the results by noting that it might take a longer time than the study embraced for the clinics to see portals reduce their workload. Also, they suggested that while the portal didn’t seem to reduce calls, it might be offering less-concrete benefits such as increased patient satisfaction.

What’s more, they said, the study results might have been impacted by the fact that all four clinics were implementing a patient centered medical home model. They seemed to think that PCMH requirements for care coordination and quality improvement initiatives for chronic illness, routine screenings and vaccinations might have increased the complexity of the patients’ needs and encouraged them to phone in for help.

As I have noted previously, patients seldom see your portal the way you do. In that previous article, I described my largely positive — but still somewhat vexing – experience using the Epic MyChart portal as a patient. In that case, while I could access all of the data held within the health system behind the EMR pretty easily, getting the health system employees to integrate outside data was a hassle and a half.

In the case described in the study, it sounds like the portal may not have been designed with patient workflow in mind. With the practices rolling out a patient-centered medical home model, the portal would have to support patients in activities that went well beyond standard appointment setting and even email exchanges with clinicians. And presumably, it didn’t.

Bottom line, I think it’s good that this research has led to questions about whether portals actually make make medical practices more efficient. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that they do — so much that investing in portals still makes sense — it’s good to see questions about their benefits looked at with some rigor.

Consider The Portable EMR

Posted on October 19, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

The other day I was reading the Huffington Post, and was surprised to stumble across a rather interesting article promoting the benefits of a “portable” EMR. Now, for HIT fans like ourselves, the word portability implies having data travel from one provider directly to another in a usable manner. But author David Black, who describes himself as a “software guy” and Technology Partner at Oak HC/FT, has something different in mind.

For Black, the best way to share healthcare data would be if the patient carried it around from place to place and updated it as they travel from provider to provider. To be more specific, the portable EMR is an app with all of the patient’s healthcare data and history stored in it. The app would serve the purpose Microsoft Outlook does for email, with the data stored and backed up in the cloud, available to sync to any device.

As Brown sees it, not only would this be a way to keep data at patients’ fingertips, it would be a better way to control access to PHI as well. As he notes, many apps ask permission to access data such as email contacts. In this case, the app would ask permission before sharing the data with medical professionals. None of the data would be “locked up” in an EMR, he says.

Now, while I’m intrigued by this idea, I can see several problems that would result from wide adoption of this approach, including the following:

* Safety and security of the data stored in the cloud:  I’m no legal expert, but from what I’ve read about the healthcare cloud, any cloud vendor with which a provider works must be a full Business Associate under HIPAA, and meet the data security standards involved. I doubt many cloud services chosen by a consumer are in compliance, and that needs to be resolved before these become too popular.

* Securing of the consumers’ data:  Ok, let’s say that the cloud-based backup arrangements were kosher. Live ePHI is still resident (and probably quite hackable) on the consumer device which contains the EMR portability app. How can consumers protect it adequately, and if they don’t what happens to systems within the provider organization that access it?

* Carrying the device:  Even if the consumer data in the portability app is secure both in the cloud and on the device, that device still has to travel with the patient. No one wants to carry a laptop everywhere, smartphones and tablets have usability issues and other devices come with their own questions. Also, if the patient’s phone or laptop gets smashed in a car wreck, but providers need current health data to treat them, where do they get it?

Despite these complaints, I do see the benefits of Brown’s approach. Putting portability into the patients’ hands has not only accessibility benefits, but also stands to boost patient engagement. (And in fact, I know of at least one company – full disclosure, a client – that’s actually doing something along these lines.) But the model that Brown is proposing has many challenges to address.

Providers Often Choose Low-Tech Collection Solutions

Posted on October 6, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

As most providers know, it’s harder to collect money from the patient once they’ve walked out the door. This has always been an issue, but is particularly important today given that patients are being asked to bear an increasingly larger percentage of their healthcare bill.

In some cases, providers solve this problem by having their staff reach out directly via phone, rather than relying entirely on paper billing. Others address these issues with technology solutions such as offering payment options via a web portal. And of course, some providers do both.

But the question remains, which combination is most likely to boost collections efficiently without losing patients in the process? And it’s this question, which underlies all those other considerations, which a new study hopes to address. When reading the results, it’s good to bear in mind that the sponsor, BillingTree, is a payment technology firm and therefore has a bias, but the survey data was interesting nonetheless.

First, a look at providers’ collections challenges. Respondents told BillingTree that compliance and collecting payments once the patient has left the building were concerns, along with knowing the correct amount to bill after insurance and addressing the client’s ability to pay. Perhaps the biggest issues were a lack of payment channels – be they staffers, interactive voice response or website tech — and disputes over the amount billed.

According to BillingTree researchers, few respondents were using Web or automated phone payment collection technologies to bring in these missing dollars. While 93.9% accepted online and mail payments, and 86.7% said they accepted payments over the phone via a live agent, only 66.7% provided a web portal payment option, and just 6.7% offered the ability to pay via an interactive voice response system. Rather than add new technologies, respondents largely said that they intended to improve collections by adding staff members or outsourcing part of their collection operations.

On the other hand, technology plays a somewhat bigger part in providers’ future plans for collections. Over the next 12 months, 20% said they planned to begin accepting payments via a web portal, and 13.3% intend to add an IVR system to accept payments. Meanwhile, the 26.7% of providers who are planning to outsource some or all of their collections are likely to benefit indirectly from these technologies, which are common among payment outsourcers, BillingTree noted.

Among those providers that did offer phone or web-based payment options, one-fifth chose to add a convenience fee to the transaction. BillingTree researchers noted that given the low adoption of such technologies, and concerns about regulatory compliance, such fees might be unwise. Nonetheless, the data suggest that collection of such fees increase over time.

All this being said, the BillingTree study doesn’t look at perhaps the most critical technology issue providers are struggling to address. As a recent American Medical Association survey recently concluded, providers are quite interested in tools that link to their EMR and help them improve their billing and reimbursement processes.

Focusing on revenue cycle management issues at the front end of the process makes sense. After all, while patients are being forced to take on larger shares of their medical costs, insurers are still more reliable sources of income. So while it makes sense for providers to track down patients who leave without having paid their share of costs, focusing the bulk of their technology dollars on improving the claims process seems like a good idea.

E-Patient Update: A Bad Case Of Hyperportalotus

Posted on September 30, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Lately, the medical profession has seen an increasing incidence of a new condition tentatively identified as “hyperportalotus” — marked by symptoms of confusion, impatience, wasted time and existential dread. Unlike many newly-identified medical problems, the cause for this condition is well understood. Patient simply have too many portals being thrust at them.

As a patient with a few chronic illnesses, I see several specialists in addition to a primary care doctor. I’ve also been seen recently at a community hospital, as well as an urgent care center run by a different health system. I have access to at least seven portals, each, as you probably guessed, completely independent of each other.

Portals in play in my medical care include two instances of Epic’s MyChart, the Allscripts FollowMyHealth product and an athenahealth portal. (As an aside, I should say that I’ve found that I like athenahealth’s product the most, but that’s a story for another day.)

Because I am who I am – an e-patient dedicated to understanding and leveraging these tools – I’m fairly comfortable working with my providers on this basis. I simply check in with the portal run by a given practice within a few days of my visit, review reports and lab results and generally orient myself to the flow of information.

Too Much Information
So, if I can easily access and switch between various portals, what’s the big deal? After all, signing up for these portals is relatively simple, and while they differ in how they are organized, their interfaces are basically the same.

The problem is (drumroll…) that most patients aren’t like me. Many are overwhelmed by their contact with the medical system and feel reluctant to dig into more information between visits. Others may not feel confident that they understand the portals and shy away reflexively.

Take the case of my 70-something father. My dad is actually pretty computer-savvy, having worked in the technology business for many years. (His career goes all the way back to the days of punch cards.) But even he seems averse to signing up for MyChart, which is used by the integrated health system that provides all of his inpatient and outpatient care.

Admittedly, my father has less contact with doctors and hospitals than I do, so his need to review medical data might be less than mine. Nonetheless, it’s a shame that the mechanics of signing up for and using a portal are intimidating to both he and my mother.

A Common Portal
All this being said, the question is what we can do about it. I have a theory, and would love to know what you think of it.

What if we launched an open source-based central industry portal to which all other portals could publish basic information?  This structure would take proprietary vendors’ interest in controlling data out of the picture. Also, with the data being by its very nature limited (as consumers never get the whole tamale) it would answer objections by providers who feel that they’re giving away the store with the patient data.

Of course, I can raise immediate and powerful objections to my own proposal, the strongest of which is probably that we would have to agree on a single shared standard for publishing this data to the central megaportal. (And we all know how that usually works out.)

On the other hand, such approach has much to recommend it, including better care coordination and hopefully, stronger patient engagement with their health. Maybe I’m crazy, but I have a feeling that this just might work. Heck, maybe my father would bother looking at his own medical information if he didn’t have to develop hyperportalotus to do it.

E-Patient Update:  Keeping Data From Patients Has Consequences

Posted on September 20, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Given who I am – an analyst and editor who’s waist-deep in the health IT world – I am primed to stay on top of my health data, including physician notes, lab reports, test results and imaging studies. Not only does it help me talk to my doctors, it gives me a feeling of control which I value.

The thing is, I’m not convinced that most physicians support me in this. Time and again, I run into situations where I can’t see my own health information via a portal until a physician “approves” the data. I’ve written about this phenomenon previously, mostly to wring my hands at the foolishness of it all, but I see the need to revisit the issue.

Having given the matter more thought, I’ve come to believe that withholding such data isn’t just unfortunate, it’s harmful. Not only does it hamper patients’ efforts to manage their own care effectively, it reveals attitudes which are likely to hold back the entire process of transforming the health system.

An Example of Delayed Health Data
Take the following example, from my own care. I was treated in the emergency department for swelling and pain which I feared might be related to a blood clot in my leg. The ED staff did a battery of tests, including an MRI, which concluded that I was actually suffering from lumbar spine issues.

Given that the spinal issue was painful and disabling, I made an appointment for follow up with a spine specialist for one week after the ED visit. But despite having signed up with the hospital’s portal, I was unable to retrieve the radiologist’s report until an hour before the spine specialist visit. And without that report the specialist would not have been able to act immediately to assist me.

I don’t know why I was unable to access the records for several days after my visit, but I can’t think of a reason why it would have made sense to deprive me of information I needed urgently for continued care. My previous experience, however, suggests that I probably had to wait until a physician reviewed the records and released them for my use.

Defeating the Purpose
To my way of looking at things, holding back records defeats the purpose of having portals in the first place. Ideally, patients don’t use portals as passive record repositories; instead, they visit them regularly and review key information generated by their clinical encounters, particularly if they suffer from chronic illnesses.

It’d be a real shame if conservative attitudes about sharing unvetted tests, imaging or procedure data undercut the benefits of portals. While it’s still not entirely clear how we’re going to engage patients further in managing their health – individually or across a population – portals are emerging as one of the more effective tools we’ve got. Bottom line, patients use them, and that’s a pretty big deal.

I’m not saying that patients have never overreacted to what looked like a scary result and called their doctor a million times in a panic. (That seems to be the scenario doctors fear, from conversations I’ve had over time.) But my guess is that it’s far less common than they think.

And in their attempts to head off a minor problem, they’re discouraging patients from getting involved with their care, which is what they need patients to do as value-based care models emerge. Seems like everyone loses.

Sure, patients may struggle to understand care data and notes at first, but what we need to do is educate them on what it means. We can’t afford to keep patients ignorant just to protect turf and salve egos.