The promise and potential of health information technology solutions are changing health policy and practice. Electronic health records (EHRs) and consumer Web portals are becoming widespread, which present some new questions for providers, patients, and policymakers. How will health IT impact care? What data should we collect to improve quality? How can we demonstrate that consumer access to data  can improve quality and/or reduce costs? HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius touched on the advanced adoption of health IT in the opening plenary session, saying that the foundation of a new 21st century health system has to be evidence. "We're beginning to see remarkable transformation in delivery," she said. "Providers are embracing new data tools. The use of basic EHR has doubled since 2008 and more than 80 percent of hospitals have committed to being meaningful users." Panelists agreed that health it can lead to transformations in care delivery, with digital health helping to inform practice decisions, improve patient safety, reduce costs, and improve patient engagement. To make those transformations, however, the systems need to be usable for both providers and patients. Panelists in a session co-sponsored by the American Medical Informatics Association examined some of the efforts underway to enhance usability. Each panelist stressed the importance of thinking about the end user's needs when designing and implementing health IT solutions. "We need to know the requirements of the end user population to make [the product] useable," said Lana Lowry of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Anita Samarth of Clinnovations—an organization that supports more than 1,000 primary care providers in implementing EHR in the Washington, D.C. area—agreed, noting that it's critical to think about the provider and patient demographics, as well as the practice demographics and specialty. But Kerry McDermott of West Health Institute said that no matter how good the design is, it's not actually valuable if we're automating bad processes. Another key challenge is determining what data to collect, and Don Detmer of the American College of Surgeons stressed the importance of moving away from data that's tied to billing and focusing more on patient safety data."We're seeing evidence of improved quality through meaningful use, but we're still seeing issues on the safety side," he said. In all three health IT sessions the panelists explained that by giving consumers access to their own health data, they can become more engaged in their care. Christine Bechtel of the National Partnership for Women and Families said that survey data shows that information technology was the number one delivery change that spoke to consumers' concerns about their own care. Patients want more coordination in care and want access to their own data, Bechtel said. Improved patient engagement is one of the biggest successes coming out of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, which has had an EHR in place since 1999. "The most exciting and fun part has been what we're doing with our patients," said Paul Tang, chief innovation and technology officer at Palo Alto. "The transformation is that the data and the knowledge and the tools get to the patients," he said, noting that more than three-quarters of patients are online and taking an active participatory role in their own care. National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Farzad Mostashari emphasized a theme that carried through all the health IT sessions today: EHR is happening, but the true test of sucess is how we use the data and learn from our experiences. He explained that too many studies focus on whether or not health IT works, when we should be examining how it works and what we can do from there. "Money may talk, but information is power and data matters. Evidence matters," Mostashari said. If data is to drive health reform, how we use it will be key in improving health care outcomes.  

Blog comments are restricted to AcademyHealth members only. To add comments, please sign-in.