Bringing EHRs out of the hospital and into the home
The ongoing transition to electronic health records systems has dominated health IT discussions in recent years as administrators work through analyses of everything from government incentives and quality of care to technical considerations such as access control. As successful case studies emerge and adoption rates climb, some are turning their attention to the next step in the process: making these digitized documents more readily available to patients themselves.
Building on early EHR successes
While many medical offices were content to sit on the sidelines just a few years ago and learn from the lessons of early adopters, most are now well on their way to EHR implementation. According to InformationWeek senior writer Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, the percentage of primary care physicians using digital records in everyday operations has doubled in the past two years. With critical mass achieved, industry experts are looking to harness this momentum and rollout the next step in the medical records management revolution.
According to Kolbasuk McGee, it is time to start pursuing the "buy-in" from patients that will allow them to leverage the technology to better manage their own health.
"Widespread consumer adoption of [EHRs] remains elusive," IDC Health Insights program director Lynne Dunbrack explained in an interview with InformationWeek. "Uptake and reasons expressed for not using a [personal health record] have remained remarkably consistent over the past five years."
The most frequently cited obstacle among consumers was the simple fact that they had not been exposed to the concept of EHR as it relates to helping them proactively address their own health concerns. Another prevalent concern that will have to be addressed includes the same fundamental data protection fears originally expressed by hospital administrators just a few years ago.
EHRs find friends in higher education
The confidentiality of personal medical information is no small concern these days as patients across the country have been bombarded with news of trusted healthcare providers leaking or losing records in large-scale breaches. However, an important antidote may have recently been supplied courtesy of the Data Privacy Lab in the Institute of Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University.
In a recent guest column for Government Health IT, Health Record Banking Alliance president William Yasnoff unveiled plans for a new health record bank (HRB) on the Harvard campus that will allow individuals to securely store and access digital copies of their medical records. This initiative represents the first time an academic institution of such stature will offer this HRB service, for free, to the general public.
"The service, called MyDataCan, is a secure and trustworthy technical infrastructure for receiving, storing and facilitating consumer-controlled access to personal information, including medical data," Yasnoff wrote. "Its design is extensible to cover various forms of personal data, customizable through third-party applications and benefits from a multi-million dollar investment by Harvard."
According to officials, this centralized platform may be as valuable from a financial perspective as it is from a security one. By eliminating the need for prolonged data searches involving multiple offices in disparate locations, operating expenses are greatly reduced. Value-added applications, provided with patient consent, can also extend the functionality of medical records in entirely new ways and are expected to ensure the HRB's economic sustainability.
"Importantly, all user data is double encrypted so that, like a safe deposit box, two keys are required to make the data available - one from Harvard and one from the user," Yasnoff added. "In this way, users can be confident that their data is only available with their permission."
EHR standing on the shoulders of the iPad
While Harvard innovators could help blaze the trail on secure medical records storage, the question becomes how will consumers access and interact with the information. Luckily for the medical community, the rise of the constantly connected consumer may make data delivery the easiest issue of all.
Now that smartphone owners officially outnumber traditional cell phone owners in the United States, health IT administrators would be foolish not to investigate the potential of mobility. An app culture is already taking shape within hospital walls as doctors can now use their tablets to do everything from assess vital signs to access medical dictionaries on a moment's notice. But by digging deeper into the potential of these devices, healthcare providers may discover faster and more engaging ways to secure consumer support for EHR.
According to TechTarget, Apple engineers are making market improvements in the interoperability of EHRs displayed on the iPad. Aside from facilitating improved communication between practitioners, it may also serve as a vital line of communication between doctor and patient - one that can be accessed remotely.