ONC to roll out plan for consumer connection to health information

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) will soon release the draft version of its consumer engagement plan with details on how patients can get more connected with their own healthcare. A 45-day period of public comment will allow interested parties to give feedback on the plan.

In the meantime, ONC wants to get the word out about current activities that promote consumer engagement. At the mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 4 officials provided examples during a Town Hall panel discussion led by Lygeia Ricciardi, director of the ONC’s Office of Consumer eHealth.

Consumer engagement can be looked at in one of two ways, Ricciardi said. On one hand, surveys report that only 10 percent of Americans use a personal health record -- a clear indication of how much work lies ahead for health IT proponents. But on the other hand, surveys indicating that 80 percent of Internet users look for health information show how much potential there is for getting consumers to take greater responsibility for their personal health information.

For much of the Town Hall session, speakers from ONC described the range of work that has revolved around the launch and use of the Blue Button. Launched in 2010 by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the initiative is considered one of the most successful examples of consumer engagement to date.

In only two years, upwards of one million users have downloaded their personal health information via the Blue Button, Pierce Graham-Jones, Innovator in Residence at the Department of Health & Human Services, told the audience.

Damon Davis, a special assistant to the Office of Consumer eHealth, described how developers across the private sector have devised more user-friendly ways of accessing health information via the Blue Button. Erin Poetter Siminario, an ONC policy analyst, noted that a range of materials have been developed to help consumers understand their rights and opportunities when it comes to using that information.

Questions and comments from the audience focused on privacy and security issues as well as payment coverage for new forms of communication between doctors and patients and data ownership.

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