Helping Consumers Be Partners in Their Own Health

Lygeia Ricciardi | September 8, 2011

We at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) know that patients are asking themselves, “How do I manage my health information?” We are working to bring the U.S. health care system into the 21st century through technology to address that concern. We understand that it’s not all about health care providers and hospitals—it’s also about you: the patient, the individual, the person who should be the focus of the health care system.

Managing Your Health Information Includes Being Involved

Many of us don’t think about our health until something goes wrong. Maybe it’s something small, like a sore elbow. Or maybe it’s big, like a diagnosis that turns your world upside down. Then, all at once, you fall through the looking glass into the health care system: a bewildering world of people in uniforms, tests, procedures, medications and forms. The lights are fluorescent, the customs are curious, and the language is often incomprehensible. At this point you may be in pain, tired, or frightened. It may not be the best time to find out that the U.S. health care system needs you to get engaged with your care, but it’s true.

That’s why ONC is launching a Consumer e-Health Program – we want you to become an active partner in your health and health care team well before there is a crisis.

Why Do Your Doctors and the Health Care System Need You?

Because you are the expert in you.

No one else has a first-hand experience of your body—what you are feeling and how you live every day. Your doctor may know what’s normal on average, but he or she doesn’t know what’s normal for you. In addition, medical care often involves uncertainty and tradeoffs, and only you know what you value most.

Because the health system needs your help.

Doctors and other health care providers generally don’t share information as much as they should. That’s slowly changing with health information technology (health IT), but even the best doctors are often acting without full information, not knowing what medications someone else may have prescribed to you, or other critical pieces of information about your health. Plus, with new studies and procedures coming out every day, no doctor can know the latest about every condition and options for treating it. You can help to bridge the information gaps by maintaining a copy of your own medical records, educating yourself about your health, and talking to other people who have similar health concerns.

Because your health depends on what you do.

In an emergency, a doctor or other health care provider can save your life. But it’s the choices you make every day that have an even bigger impact on your health. Your diet, exercise, social life, and behaviors, like whether you smoke, wear a seatbelt, or take your medications, are all critical factors, and they all depend on the decisions you make.  Having better information about these decisions can help improve and maintain good health.

Because you care more than anyone.



It is, after all, your body we’re talking about. Your health care providers may do their best, but no one is as invested in the quality of your health—and your life—as you. So please help to be a part of your health and health care team.

About the Consumer e-Health Program – A 3 Step Focus

ONC will soon be launching a Consumer e-Health Program to equip and empower individuals to be partners in their own health and health care through health IT.

We believe that health IT can play a critical role for you, just as it can for your doctors and other health care providers.  The program will focus on the following 3 areas:

1.      Access

You need access to information if you are going to be a partner in your health. You already have a legal right to access your medical records. If your doctors and hospitals make your records easily and securely available electronically, it will make it easier for you to manage your health and share this information with others you trust to help coordinate your care. By looking at your own records, you can help identify and fix mistakes, and better understand what’s going on when you talk to a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider.

2.      Action

Innovative tools and applications can help you take action with your health information, whether through your cell phone, smart phone, or programs that can help you set and meet your own health goals. We’re talking about everything from digital, wireless pedometers to text reminders. We’re also working to ensure that no populations are left behind or caught up in the “digital divide.”


3. Attitude

Traditionally, doctors gave instructions and patients followed their directions (or not). We want you to know that it’s OK to talk to your doctor, to ask questions, to share ideas, and to be a genuine partner in your care. Better access to information and the tools to use that information effectively should help you play a more engaged role in your health.

ONC will spearhead a public campaign about Putting the I in Health ITSM, which uses stories to showcase how consumers and health care providers are partnering to use health IT to improve health and health care.

More to Come

We hope you will join us on this journey to greater consumer engagement in health and health care and will help you manage your health information. Stay tuned for some big announcements next week about the program… In the meantime, let us know if you have any comments on this post.