News
5/2/2012
01:58 PM
Ken Terry
Ken Terry
Slideshows

9 Health IT Tools Patients Should Understand

To be actively involved in your own medical care, you need to understand the basics about electronic medical records, health information exchanges, and more. Check out our primer.




If you're a patient in search of the best medical care possible, it makes sense to understand some of the electronic tools doctors now use to manage your care. The fact is, health IT changes how physicians and other healthcare providers document and view healthcare information and exchange data with each other.

This slideshow offers an overview of not only the electronic tools that clinicians manage, but also some of the tools they are starting to use to communicate with patients. We'll cover electronic medical records (EMRs), personal health records (PHRs), patient web portals, electronic prescribing, electronic lab result reporting, health information exchanges (HIEs), and telemedicine (also known as telemonitoring).

An EMR (also called an electronic health record, or EHR) is a confidential record of your healthcare that your doctor, hospital, or other healthcare provider keeps on a computer. EMRs may be interconnected through a health information exchange (HIE) that contains information from many other providers who are also caring for you. Electronic prescribing software, which may be separate from or included in EMRs, allows providers to write electronic prescriptions and send them to pharmacies online.

Many providers also use secure patient portals that, in some cases, interact with their EMRs. These portals often let you request appointments and prescription refills, consult with a physician or nurse practitioner, and pay bills online. Some physicians' offices and hospitals make lab results and visit summaries available on patient portals as well. In the most advanced organizations, such as Kaiser Permanente, patients can view their key medical records on a portal. Some lab companies also use portals to provide lab results directly to patients.

A personal health record (PHR) is a computerized document that contains information about your health. Some websites allow you to create your own PHR with information you have entered or downloaded from other sources. You can request your medical records from your provider and enter the information yourself. Some hospitals and physician practices will help you create PHRs with information contained in their EHRs. In addition, some employers and healthcare insurance companies offer PHRs that are based on data from insurance claims. For a look at 9 popular PHRs, you can also check out this slideshow: 9 Popular Personal Health Record Tools.

Telehealth, or telemedicine, is a growing trend in health IT. The Veterans Health Administration, along with some private practices and hospitals, supply very sick patients with home monitoring equipment that can transmit data about their health conditions to their providers. If you have a chronic disease like diabetes, you can also find applications for your iPad, iPhone, or other mobile device that will allow you to send data such as your blood sugar level or your blood pressure to your doctor.

As these technologies are adopted more widely and as doctors and patients become better connected, health IT may benefit you in several ways. Robert Miller, a professor of health economics at the University of California San Francisco, says that health information exchanges will result in "fewer errors, more appropriate care, and more effective care." According to Miller, this will be especially apparent if you visit the emergency department. When HIEs include data from all of the providers who have cared for us, Miller says, "There's organized data immediately available on our own health and who we are and what our health conditions are."

Mark Savage, a senior attorney for Consumers Union, agrees. Among the benefits of interconnected EHRs, he says, are improved quality, safety, efficiency, and coordination of care among primary care physicians and specialists. In addition, researchers will be able to use the data to determine which kinds of treatments work best, and public health agencies will be able to detect epidemics sooner.




When you sign up as a patient with a medical practice, a physician or a nurse will likely create an electronic health record to document your medical information on a continuing basis. This computerized record may include demographic data such as age and gender, progress notes, diagnoses, medications, vital signs, past medical history, immunizations, laboratory data, and radiology reports. A fully functional EHR--which describes many, but not all, EHR systems--also includes "decision support" tools such as drug interaction checkers and prompts to provide needed preventive and chronic care. Fully functional EHRs also allow providers to prescribe medications and order lab and imaging tests electronically.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Most Physicians Don't Tap EHR's Full Potential

A Fresh Approach To Personal Health Records

Nationwide HIE Corrals 500 Hospitals, 4,000 Practices

GE Rolls Out Upgraded Online Patient Portal

Population Health Management Requires Better IT Tools

5 IT Tools Helping Patients Find Clinical Trials

How Mobile, Cloud Are Transforming Healthcare

Despite Flaws, Personal Health Records Are Smart Medicine

Physician EHR Adoption Varies With Age, Specialty, Affiliation




A personal health record, which may contain patient-entered, clinical, and/or insurance claim data, can help you store, manage, and share your personal health information on a secure website. This can be especially beneficial in an emergency or when you see a physician who is unfamiliar with your medical history. If you choose to share your PHR with your regular physician, the information may help that provider diagnose and treat you.

PHRs come in two varieties. One kind is "tethered" to a healthcare system, a large physician group, an employer, or an insurance company, and contains only data assembled by that organization or entered by you. The other kind, in contrast, allows you to build your own PHR with data that you have entered or uploaded from your providers' EHRs or other sources. Microsoft HealthVault is an example of this type of PHR. This approach gives you more control over the data, but you may have to enter the key information manually from printouts of your medical records if your providers do not supply it electronically.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Most Physicians Don't Tap EHR's Full Potential

A Fresh Approach To Personal Health Records

Nationwide HIE Corrals 500 Hospitals, 4,000 Practices

GE Rolls Out Upgraded Online Patient Portal

Population Health Management Requires Better IT Tools

5 IT Tools Helping Patients Find Clinical Trials

How Mobile, Cloud Are Transforming Healthcare

Despite Flaws, Personal Health Records Are Smart Medicine

Physician EHR Adoption Varies With Age, Specialty, Affiliation




The most common type of PHR consists of claims and lab and drug data supplied by your employer or a health insurer. (Aetna's PHR is shown here.) Most major national insurers and many regional health plans offer these PHRs to their members. More than 70 million people have access to these PHRs, but only a small percentage of those consumers use them. Claims-based PHRs have some disadvantages, including the fact that their information is usually out of date and is less accurate than clinical data, which reflects more closely what services were provided to you. On the other hand, claims-based PHRs keep better track of what was done for you across all care settings because all providers that contract with your health plan submit claims for payment.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Most Physicians Don't Tap EHR's Full Potential

A Fresh Approach To Personal Health Records

Nationwide HIE Corrals 500 Hospitals, 4,000 Practices

GE Rolls Out Upgraded Online Patient Portal

Population Health Management Requires Better IT Tools

5 IT Tools Helping Patients Find Clinical Trials

How Mobile, Cloud Are Transforming Healthcare

Despite Flaws, Personal Health Records Are Smart Medicine

Physician EHR Adoption Varies With Age, Specialty, Affiliation




A patient portal is a secure website that is typically connected to an EHR or a secure messaging system. The portal may allow patients to access a provider-based PHR and/or a subset of information within a healthcare organization's EHR. Patients can use PHRs to complete forms online, communicate with their providers, request prescription refills, pay bills, review lab results, and schedule medical appointments. The government's EHR incentive program is increasing the adoption of patient portals by requiring that visit notes be made available to patients electronically. Ask your physician if his or her practice has a portal and what you can use it for.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Most Physicians Don't Tap EHR's Full Potential

A Fresh Approach To Personal Health Records

Nationwide HIE Corrals 500 Hospitals, 4,000 Practices

GE Rolls Out Upgraded Online Patient Portal

Population Health Management Requires Better IT Tools

5 IT Tools Helping Patients Find Clinical Trials

How Mobile, Cloud Are Transforming Healthcare

Despite Flaws, Personal Health Records Are Smart Medicine

Physician EHR Adoption Varies With Age, Specialty, Affiliation




Your physician can use an EHR to look up your medical history and see what he or she did for you. But doctors don't necessarily know what other providers outside their organization have done or prescribed for you. Health information exchanges (HIEs)--like the MedAllies HIE pictured here--aim to close that knowledge gap by allowing providers to exchange data with each other online. Your hospital or healthcare system may build an HIE to connect the hospital with the medical staff. In some areas, regional or community HIEs link the local hospitals, physician practices, labs, pharmacies, and other providers. Some states are building statewide HIEs that connect the regional HIEs as well.

Many consumers are concerned about the privacy and security of their health data when it is exchanged across the Internet. While this is a real issue, state and federal laws require a certain level of security for all individually identifiable patient data. Most HIEs allow you to opt out, but it is rare for consumers to have to opt in for their data to be included in the HIE. On the other hand, Mark Savage of Consumers Union says consumers may be able to indicate who you want to see your data. There may also be audit trails that show who has viewed your information, according to Robert Miller of UCSF, but consumers are often not informed of this capability.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Most Physicians Don't Tap EHR's Full Potential

A Fresh Approach To Personal Health Records

Nationwide HIE Corrals 500 Hospitals, 4,000 Practices

GE Rolls Out Upgraded Online Patient Portal

Population Health Management Requires Better IT Tools

5 IT Tools Helping Patients Find Clinical Trials

How Mobile, Cloud Are Transforming Healthcare

Despite Flaws, Personal Health Records Are Smart Medicine

Physician EHR Adoption Varies With Age, Specialty, Affiliation




If your physician prescribes electronically, the prescription usually goes online to the pharmacy of your choice, and your medication is often ready to be picked up by the time you arrive. In addition to its convenience, electronic prescribing produces legible prescriptions--not always the case when doctors hand-write them--and reduces the chance of errors when prescriptions are entered into the pharmacy computer. In addition, electronic prescribing modules in EHRs may alert physicians when a particular drug is not recommended under specific conditions, or when it might produce an adverse reaction due to another medication you're on. Electronic prescribing helps keep you safe.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Most Physicians Don't Tap EHR's Full Potential A Fresh Approach To Personal Health Records Nationwide HIE Corrals 500 Hospitals, 4,000 Practices

GE Rolls Out Upgraded Online Patient Portal

Population Health Management Requires Better IT Tools

5 IT Tools Helping Patients Find Clinical Trials

How Mobile, Cloud Are Transforming Healthcare

Despite Flaws, Personal Health Records Are Smart Medicine

Physician EHR Adoption Varies With Age, Specialty, Affiliation




Some laboratories will provide your test results online without going through your doctor's office--in fact, the federal government recently proposed requiring all labs to do so. If you want to get your results immediately--bearing in mind that your doctor should still explain and discuss them with you--you may be able to obtain them on your mobile device, using an application such as Gazelle by Quest Diagnostics. Gazelle allows you to use your smartphone to receive results, manage medications, and share healthcare information with others.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Most Physicians Don't Tap EHR's Full Potential

A Fresh Approach To Personal Health Records

Nationwide HIE Corrals 500 Hospitals, 4,000 Practices

GE Rolls Out Upgraded Online Patient Portal

Population Health Management Requires Better IT Tools

5 IT Tools Helping Patients Find Clinical Trials

How Mobile, Cloud Are Transforming Healthcare

Despite Flaws, Personal Health Records Are Smart Medicine

Physician EHR Adoption Varies With Age, Specialty, Affiliation




Originally developed by the Veterans Health Administration, Blue Button technology allows veterans and many consumers to download their medical records from EHRs as text files. As of late last year, half a million veterans and Medicare patients, including non-veterans, had used the Blue Button interface to download their records. Among the private firms that have committed to using the Blue Button or are using it already are Kaiser Permanente, McKesson, Microsoft HealthVault, Aetna, and UnitedHealth Group. Contact your provider or your health plan to find out whether you can obtain your records using the Blue Button.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Most Physicians Don't Tap EHR's Full Potential

A Fresh Approach To Personal Health Records

Nationwide HIE Corrals 500 Hospitals, 4,000 Practices

GE Rolls Out Upgraded Online Patient Portal

Population Health Management Requires Better IT Tools

5 IT Tools Helping Patients Find Clinical Trials

How Mobile, Cloud Are Transforming Healthcare

Despite Flaws, Personal Health Records Are Smart Medicine

Physician EHR Adoption Varies With Age, Specialty, Affiliation




Photo Credit: Lightchaser Photography

The huge growth in the use of mobile devices such as iPads and iPhones has jump-started the once sleepy field of telehealth. More and more providers are enabling patients to use these mobile devices to transmit data such as their glucose levels, blood pressure, medication adherence, and other factors. To help reduce healthcare costs and prevent readmissions, some healthcare systems are also monitoring patients' health conditions at home. For example, Partners Healthcare in Boston has a program called Partners Connected Care that monitors patients with congestive heart failure who are at risk for hospitalization.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Most Physicians Don't Tap EHR's Full Potential

A Fresh Approach To Personal Health Records

Nationwide HIE Corrals 500 Hospitals, 4,000 Practices

GE Rolls Out Upgraded Online Patient Portal

Population Health Management Requires Better IT Tools

5 IT Tools Helping Patients Find Clinical Trials

How Mobile, Cloud Are Transforming Healthcare

Despite Flaws, Personal Health Records Are Smart Medicine

Physician EHR Adoption Varies With Age, Specialty, Affiliation

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Email This  | 
Print  | 
RSS
More Insights
Copyright © 2020 UBM Electronics, A UBM company, All rights reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service