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There is a high level of trust between the healthcare provider and patient/consumer. However, the primary barrier to consumer engagement in healthcare is educational and cultural. Patients need to understand the value that can be derived from self-management of health and use of health data/records; and their concerns about their personal health information (PHI) being available electronically need to be alleviated.
Additionally, clinicians need to adjust their perspective of the provider-patient relationship by allowing consumers access to their health information upon request, which will also require them to support portability of such records. Clinicians will also be expected to provide education and guidance to their patients, as most do not understand how to use their PHI in support of their health goals.
Once PHI data begins to flow securely to consumers for their use, a more robust consumer market will naturally develop to provide them effective tools/applications to leverage their PHI in a meaningful and health supporting fashion.
Engaging patients and consumers in a secure HIE environment is critical to the success of Health IT and to health care reform. For patients, engagement means understanding and using technology to actively participate in their health care and health care decision making, based on their own individual preferences and values. The benefits of health IT use for patients and consumers include easy access, use, control and portability of their health information; increased efficiency; the avoidance of potential medical errors or complications; and increased partnering with their clinician to improve their overall health and quality of care.
As technology continues to evolve, there will be more opportunities to engage the patient/consumer in their care, and to change and enhance the nature of communications between and among patients/consumers and clinicians. Engaging patients and consumers in health IT, while protecting their privacy, requires giving patients the ability to access or shares their own records. Leading researchers in the field of health informatics point to the fact that consumers are already managing their own bank accounts, investments and purchases online. Those same consumers will expect a similar level of control with their personal health records.