Senate committee highlights keys to enhanced patient engagement

Senate committee lays out suggestions for enhanced patient engagement

Increased patient access to essential health information has become a major focus throughout the health care industry. The topic was discussed at the hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held this past September. Three witnesses shared their ideas, including Dr. Raj Ratwani, the scientific director at the National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare at MedStar Health; Kathy Giusti, founder and executive chairman of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation; and Eric Dishman, general manager for Health and Life Sciences at Intel Corporation.

HELP Committee focuses on patient engagement
One of the most important factors that goes into improving the access that patients have to their medical information is the usability of patient portals featured on electronic health records. Ratwani pointed out that access, quality of data and functionality are the most important aspects to consider when attempting to increase the number of patients who use health IT. Patients are not going to use patient portals if getting ahold of the data they want to view is too challenging or the process is not secure.

"Patients must have easy access to their health information to improve health outcomes, facilitate patient and family engagement in care, and to reduce safety risks," Ratwani noted in his testimony. "Critically, this information must be presented in a manner that is both understandable and useful."

The presentation and usability of the EHR's portal interface is going to impact the number of patients who take advantage of health IT for their health needs. An interface that is both simple to navigate and includes information that is easy to understand by someone with low health literacy will also make presenting information more effective during appointments.

"The information and capabilities of the system must be useful for the patient," Ratwani said. "The design of system capabilities, such as patient-provider communication, should be intelligently integrated with the workflow processes of the clinician so that the clinicians are able to support the patient in a timely manner."

Importance of EHR use for enhanced patient access
Dishman highlighted four actions that he believed Congress must take before patient access to health information can truly improve. These include tackling the economic and social obstacles that currently stand in the way of health information access, eliminating financial and legal barriers that prevent health professionals from sharing data, continuing the transition to value-based care models and modifying health IT standards. 

The third witness, Giusti, explained that patients need to have a full understanding of how to use health IT and patient portals. It is up to doctors, the federal government and advocacy organizations to help patients gain this knowledge so they are comfortable with the system and, ultimately, more inclined to access health data at home. 

EHR integration and interoperability will ensure that patients can refer to one system for their health information instead of having to seek out this data from multiple doctors because the information is not shareable between care settings. With efficient EHR integration, doctors would have a better idea of their patients' health status as well. 

"The greatest efficiency will come from our ability to integrate EHRs across the vast number of specialized doctors and centers that patients now see," Giusti stated. "That data must be integrated into a centralized portal that we as patients feel like we own, share, update, and provide."

As each witness commented on different factors required for enhanced patient access to health information, this shows that there is plenty of room for improvement across the industry. The first step providers must take is investing in an EHR system with a high-quality patient portal and then ensuring that patients know how to access their data securely.