• The vital interests of the electronic health records and health IT

  • Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, proposed new rules that would expand the rights of patients to access their health information through the use of health information technology.

    Specifically, the new rules would empower patients by allowing them to gain access to test results directly from labs. They would ensure that labs covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) provide such information, upon request, directly to patients or their personal representatives.

    The announcement came Monday at the kick-off of the first HHS Consumer Health IT Summit, which brought together consumers, providers and the public and private sectors to discuss how best to empower consumers to be partners in their health and care through health information technology.

    “When it comes to healthcare, information is power,” Sebelius said at the summit. “When patients have their lab results, they are more likely to ask the right questions, make better decisions and receive better care.”

    In conjunction with the announcement, the American Nurses Association issued a statement in which it pledged to educate consumers about the benefits of electronic health information.

    The ANA plans to develop educational materials on health information technology for RNs to share with consumers. The initiative will help people understand the benefits of using their electronic health records to prevent illness and manage chronic conditions, and to track their history of immunizations, clinical exams and hospitalizations.

    “Health information technology can improve care by ensuring that care is based on evidence,” ANA President Karen Daley, RN, PhD, MPH, FAAN, said in a news release. “It also allows healthcare professionals from different clinical settings and disciplines to communicate effectively about a patient’s care to avoid duplication of services and ensure nothing important is missed through a lost paper trail or failed memory. This unique platform for compiling and analyzing data also supports one of the strongest tenets of nursing — educating the healthcare consumer.”

    The ANA will ask nurses to submit examples of the innovative use of health information technology in their practices, including methods for engaging patients in the use of that technology to improve their health, such as through patient portals. The ANA intends to share such models with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), a branch of HHS, to demonstrate nursing’s effectiveness in developing consumer-oriented health information technology strategies.

    On a legislative basis, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, jointly drafted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, proposes to amend the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 regulations and HIPAA privacy regulations to strengthen patients’ rights to access their own lab test result reports.The vital interests of the electronic health records and health IT

    The Summit highlighted vital benefits of electronic health records and health IT:

    • Health IT empowers patients. For example, people at risk of myocardial infarction may use mobile health applications to manage their weight, diet and medication adherence.

    • Health IT can facilitate lasting quality improvements, which can lead to greater efficiency and cost savings in the long term.

    • Health IT is the driving innovation in all parts of consumers’ lives — from new interactive applications to devices such as digital pedometers that capture important health information from everyday experiences.

    • Health IT helps coordinate better care, and can be a powerful tool for patients in managing serious medical conditions.

    • Health IT has robust security and all users, from patients to caregivers to providers, can easily and safely access and share health information electronically.

    • Health IT may help diagnose health problems sooner, avoid medical errors and provide safer care that can result in lower costs.

    In the coming year, ONC will work with healthcare stakeholders to further consumer access to information and empower consumers to become active participants in their health. The new website www.HealthIT.gov creates dedicated consumer-oriented information that describes the benefits of health IT, provides consumer health education materials and will be a valuable resource for learning about new advances in health IT.

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