Elizabeth O'Conner

Elizabeth O'Conner

Diane has gone to hundreds of doctors for her psoriasis since 1963. As she has gotten older, she has developed other illnesses and visited more physicians, adding to her health record portfolio. What she has also developed, unknowingly, are mistakes in her medical record.

After a doctor reviewed her records at one of her regular visits and asked what her insulin dosage was – insulin is a medication she is not prescribed – Diane wanted to know what other errors were in her medical records so that she could correct decades of mistakes. She was met with annoyed doctors and administrative headaches in trying to fix records that were not accurately portraying her medical history.

This could have been caught much earlier if Diane had access to her medical records through an electronic patient portal available on personal devices. As technology changes and electronic health records become standard, patients can be more active players in their health care decisions.

Currently, HIPAA and HITECH allow medical providers to use electronic health records to share patients’ information and data amongst providers. A proposed rule change of the 21st Century Cures Act expands this to allow patients to have access to their records.

More than 80% of patients keep medically relevant information from their physician because they feel judged or do not understand why that information is important. Patients are going from one specialist to the next in order to meet their medical needs, and they are often giving the same information over and over again. Transparency of health records lets patients see the accuracy in the record from each visit and treatment. Diane’s story shows that even with patient honesty, accuracy isn’t guaranteed. This can perpetuate distrust with a patient’s providers and, more urgently, can cause delays in treatment.

Patients possessing their whole record can make the relationship with their medical providers more personalized and meaningful. But there is fragmentation when multiple platforms house your data. And these do not include daily health data from smartphone apps, which more and more patients are using. Without platforms being able to talk to each other, patients and physicians are unable to see a complete health story.

Health and wellness apps portray your health over time rather than just the snapshot physician records show. With over 318,000 different types of health apps available on the Apple iOS and Google Play stores, a quick search helps you find an app that tracks achieving your goals or treatments. For many, this has become the way to be involved and aware of daily health outcomes.

Platforms that put your health records and your daily data together exist but are still relatively new. This summer, Apple did a limited rollout of a new version of its health application. Patients enter their health records, medications and history into one place and allow data from third-party apps to be included. Information can then be shared with physicians, who input data after each visit through encrypted sharing from their electronic health records platform. Through this access point, patients are able to check in on their progress and have fewer troubles when seeing a new doctor or visiting an emergency room.

There is no relationship like the one between patients and their data. As Diane’s story demonstrates, mistakes included in patient records are stubborn, and patients go through a long and tedious process in order to correct them.

Seeing their health records and data at their convenience speeds up the correction process and helps patients change their routines in order to achieve better outcomes. As personal devices and technology increase access and ability to track progresses, including electronic health records in these platforms makes for more informed patients and a stronger relationship with their health providers.

Elizabeth O’Conner is a legislative fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

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