Health IT Strategy for Empowering Consumers

Jodi G. Daniel | November 1, 2010

For the past few months, ONC has been reviewing the government’s role in empowering consumers to better manage their health through information technology (IT). As we work toward a future of widespread electronic health record adoption and meaningful use, and as we continue to see rapid technology advancements in this industry, there is opportunity for consumers to take fuller advantage of the benefits of health IT.

Last week, we hosted a meeting with representatives from some of the leading consumer advocacy organizations in the country, including consumer protection agencies, disease advocacy groups, clinical innovation think tanks, and consumer health web designers. This particular meeting was focused on building a dialogue between the government, consumer organizations, and their members about the nation’s transition to electronic health records.  It further validated our belief that public input is critical to the process of focusing our work on areas where the federal government has an important role to play, and away from areas best left to others.

ONC is currently drafting a five-year Federal Health IT Strategic Plan, which is scheduled for publication in early 2011. In the plan, our proposed framework for consumer empowerment takes into consideration our existing activities. But it also provides a unique opportunity to set forward-looking direction and do more for consumers over the next five years. We hope you will assist us.

  • First, do you agree with the four objectives listed below?
  • Second, what specific activities would you like to see the federal government take on? See the bullet points below each objective for some starting ideas of possible activities.

We will be unable to respond to every post but we will follow-up with another entry to reflect on the discussion.

The Goal: Empower Consumers to Better Manage Their Health through Health IT

  • Objective A. Engage consumers in federal health IT policy and programs: In order for federal health IT policy and programs to be successful, consumers must both understand the impact of those policies and programs and have direct involvement in shaping them. Ideas for possible activities:
    • Fund a communication campaign to engage with consumers about the benefits of health IT
    • Host consumer listening sessions designed to get consumers’ input on programs and policies
    • Solicit consumer input to Federal Advisory Committees and into rulemaking processes
  • Objective B. Accelerate consumer access to electronic health information: Consumers will be better able to manage their health when they have timely and electronic access to their own health information. Ideas for possible activities:
    • Develop tools like the “Blue Button,” an application that enables veterans to download their health information online from My HealtheVet
    • Require electronic access of consumer health information by patients and address privacy protections for this information through federal regulations and policies
    • Create meaningful use incentives for physicians to share health information with patients
  • Objective C. Foster innovation in consumer health IT: Innovative tools will make electronic health information more useful to consumers and make managing their healthcare more convenient. Ideas for possible activities:
    • Fund research into innovative technologies
    • Launch pilots (such as the Beacon Community Program) that show ways to improve outcomes through the use of consumer health IT
    • Set up “technology test beds” that could define needs for new technologies in the clinical setting
  • Objective D. Drive consumer-provider electronic communications: Consumers can become more active participants in their health and care if providers encourage electronic communications and tools, such as secure e-mail and remote monitoring. Idea for possible activity:
    • Develop quality improvement initiatives that encourage providers to help empower consumers through their use of health IT