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Meaningful Use Means Engaging Patients in EHR, Too

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, January 13, 2011
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The government line is that patients love the idea of electronic health data. "In my personal experience of providing care with an electronic health record I never found a patient who wasn't either intrigued or supportive of the use of an electronic health system, says David Blumenthal, MD, HHS' national coordinator for health information technology. 

But there are many consumer concerns and barriers to patient adoption.

Privacy and security of data is a big one: About 75% of the people currently not using EHR/PHR who responded to the CHCF survey call it "a significant barrier" to participation. Right or wrong, some patients think that if they release their personal health information, insurers might use it to deny coverage, employers might use it to decide whether to hire or fire them, hospitals might sell the data to marketers, or careless employees might release the records to a nosy neighbor or an identity thief.

Concerns about misuse of data are legitimate, says U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD. "And that's where government comes in, to protect the information, [to ensure] that your information isn't shared with anyone unless you want it to be. That's important."

In fact, she says, physicians should stress to patients that electronic data is more secure than paper charts, which might be lying out on a desk where anyone can see them instead of behind a firewall in a password-protected computer. "We're trying to explain to people that it's easier to protect electronic data than it was to protect that paper chart," she says.

Benjamin's comment aligns with conventional wisdom among healthcare leaders: that the task of engaging patients in their electronic health data should fall primarily to primary care physicians.

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