Harnessing Consumer Engagement for Better Health, Better Care and Lower Cost

Dr. Karen B. DeSalvo | October 1, 2015

Today, ONC joins hundreds of providers, consumers, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and federal and private sector partners to celebrate advancements in consumer engagement through health IT at its premier consumer event: the Fifth Annual Consumer Health IT Summit (#consumersummit15). We have a lot of success to celebrate, a lot of exciting developments to share with one another, and yes, -a lot of work still to do.

Demonstrating Success on Consumer Engagement

We have seen considerable progress in the five short years since the Department of Veteran’s Affairs first unveiled the Blue Button Initiative as a simple solution for veterans to download their own health information. Four years ago, ONC helped nationally launch the Blue Button Initiative to help bring this capability to all Americans. Conceived and run as a public-private partnership, the Initiative has secured commitments from more than 650 organizations to increase consumer access and use of health information and technology. These efforts, combined with Federal policy changes, have led to tremendous progress on the goal to equip individuals and their families with their own health information.

  • In 2014, over half of individuals who were offered online access to their medical record viewed their record at least once within the last year.
  • In 2014, almost half of individuals nationwide engaged in at least one of the following activities: sending or receiving a text message or an email from their health care provider; using a smart phone health application; or looking at their test results online.

Access to individual health information online is only a starting point. As a community, we have more work to do to ensure that individuals and their families can fully digest and understand their health information. We need to remove artificial barriers of entry, meaning difficult in-person authentication processes, poor user design platforms or costs for online access so that individuals can receive their data in a digestible format of their choosing and can share their data whenever and with whomever they trust.

Fortunately, our community is already rising to meet these challenges. At the Summit, we’ll spotlight the ways in which our supporters have responded to the needs of consumers, their families, and caregivers by providing innovative technology solutions that bridge communication gaps, and foster greater collaboration with care teams. These critical advancements support consumer wellness and improve health outcomes. We will also highlight industry innovation that welcomes — and encourages — consumer participation in healthcare through patient-generated health data.

Progress Continues but Work Remains

The combination of advocacy and policy drivers like Meaningful Use and the Blue Button Initiative has begun to yield substantive results. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a significant increase in individuals’ online access to their health information and individual use of that access. We are particularly encouraged by prtaovider progress.

In a new data brief we describe a six-fold increase in the percentage of hospitals giving consumers the ability to view, download and transmit their health information online; from 10 percent in 2013 to 64 percent of hospitals offering access today. In parallel, our 2014 national consumer survey reveals that four-in-ten individuals report having electronic access to their health information from health care providers or insurers, and eight-in-ten who accessed their online medical record found it useful.

Still, not all consumers experience the benefits of health IT. In fact, our data show significantly lower health IT use among individuals with less than a 4-year college degree. This may reflect gaps in health literacy.  Health literacy is often overlooked and is neither a new challenge nor simply a technology challenge. It existed in the paper-based world and may persist in the electronic world if more isn’t done to address it now. Together, we can work to find solutions that improve health literacy for all Americans.

In addition to gaps in health literacy, awareness of their right to access their health information electronically and how to go about doing so may be limited. Our survey has found individuals who are aware of their right to access their health information electronically get offered access at higher rates than those unaware. Additionally, a recent Xerox survey found that more than a third of US adults are unaware of patient portals. It is critical that this community continue to educate patients to help remedy this problem.  While patient portals do not equal patient engagement, they can be a powerful tool to activating consumers and their care teams to coordinate care and improve health outcomes.

New Tools & Resources for Consumers and Providers

Today, I am pleased to share a new educational video for patients about their right to access health information. Please use and share this video to encourage consumers to learn more about their right and benefits of accessing personal health information and how to get that access.

We also want to enlist your help to support our awareness efforts, like the Nationwide Blue Button Campaign, which launched last year with 18 leading national organizations. Together, we pushed public service videos, published blogs at numerous consumer sites, and ran other activities to introduce more Americans to the Blue Button Initiative. On July 4th of this year, many of you coalesced together to launch the Get My Health Data Campaign, focused on educating consumers about the availability of online access to health information and how they can take advantage of that access.

We also want to support providers in their efforts to market online health information to patients. Today, we are unveiling “Strategies for Improving Patient Engagement through Health IT ,” a new tool outlining tangible steps you can take to educate your patients about your online capabilities through patient portals. We hope this tool will contribute to your efforts to increase patient use of these resources.

Join the conversation online


Join me for this exciting conversation and pivotal call to action to use technology to help Americans manage their health. Follow us on Twitter @ONC_HealthIT and use the hashtag #consumersummit15 to share your thoughts, reactions, and questions about the Summit.