Your health care now has a username and password

Experts

Health Policy Analyst

By Dena Mendelsohn on Thursday, July 17th, 2014

This is the first in a series of blogs on health information technology. 

Can you schedule an appointment with your doctor online? Or log on and check out your medical history? Maybe you’re in contact with your doctor via email? Or you wear one of those nifty new wristbands that aim to track aspects of your health? These trends are all part of a move towards health information technology or “health IT”.

The goal of health IT is to help health care consumers (i.e. patients), families, caregivers, hospitals and doctors communicate with each other and share information electronically in a secure and private manner. This rapidly growing frontier spans a wide range of technologies including electronic health records (EHRs), patient portals, smartphone apps, self-monitoring or tracking devices to name just a handful.

Like all new technologies, some patients and providers have quickly caught on to the wave of health IT and are comfortably using these new services and products to add to their health care experience. But for many, the concepts are unfamiliar and daunting, if even accessible. Cost and other technical barriers—such as lack of reliable internet access—can stand in the way.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a program that provides financial incentives to doctors if they make EHRs available to consumers online and if they communicate with patients online. But for the program to work, consumers have to take advantage of what’s being offered. As providers increasingly adopt health IT, it will be ever more important for patients and their caretakers and advocates to become familiar with what is possible ask questions.

In the digital age, part of understanding your health and your health care is understanding health IT. Savvy health care consumers should understand what is available to them, use those tools to actively participate in their care, and advocate for improvements where gaps exist. This blog series will walk readers through opportunities and challenges in health IT.

Want to tell Consumers Union about how health IT has improved or impacted your healthcare? Tweet to @CU_Health using #HealthIT or share your story with us directly using this link. To join our movement and receive periodic updates and communications from Consumers Union Advocacy on this and other topics of interest to consumers like you, click here.

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