Louisiana Bringing HIT Education Directly to Consumers

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Louisiana is pioneering a direct-to-consumer approach to educating the state's residents about the power of health information technology. The D-T-C campaign is slated to begin statewide sometime in mid-July.

A key element of the initiative is the formation of an health IT consumer advisory council by the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum and the state's Department of Health and Hospitals. According to forum and DHH officials, the council will support the promotion, advancement, and utilization of HIT tools, such as electronic health records and patient portals, among Louisiana residents. The council will represent the voice of patients and families in the state’s development of strategies for the use of HIT.

Forum CEO Cindy Munn said the non-profit organization's unique roles as the state's Regional Extension Center and HIE administrator gives it credence with providers as the "go-to" resource on HIT. The forum also plays a key role in assisting consumers affected by the state's transition to Medicaid managed care, which will also have behavioral and long-term health components.

"In order for that to be successful, it is important that we educate consumers on how to use tools that are available," Munn said. "Even more than that, it's important that we understand what is they want to meet that need."

The 13-member council, which represents a wide range of interests from condition-specific  and demographic-specific groups, also includes business representation. As far as the forum's communications managers can tell, it is breaking new ground in the drive to embed technology into provider-patient relationships.

"When we started putting this together, it was a moment of tremendous excitement, but also a tad bit of fear," said Jamie Martin, the forum's marketing and communications manager. "No other organization has attempted to do this the way we're doing it in launching a statewide direct-to-consumer campaign. So there was no model for us to look at to see what worked and what didn't.

"Council members span the spectrum of healthcare, and just bringing that group of people has forged very strong relationships – for example, special needs advocates and seniors' groups found some interrelated priorities. We are very honored to be a part of helping these groups find their common ground in better reaching their populations and integrating their programs."

Munn said forum executives are "surprised" that they've gotten some inquiries from other organizations about the council. "We thought it just made common sense, to go back to the consumer to get feedback."

And, she said, those who provide that feedback need to feel their input is given equal weight to those who are perceived as occupying positions of traditional authority. "When you put these stakeholders together, consumers many times feel intimidated by these other stakeholders. By pulling a committee together, it it gives them a larger voice and levels the playing field."

Martin said this sense of equality will be vital to improving provider-patient communications as the state's healthcare economy shifts to managed care and value-based payments. In the forum's baseline readiness survey, consumers appeared to be just as ready as their providers, if not more, for more efficient communications and education platforms.

"Consumers want this," she said. "They want easy access to their information. They want better communications with their provider and they are ready for it. When we did our survey, we started by asking our residents basic questions, like whether they had copies of their personal health records, and 68 percent of the population said no, but 51 percent said they had requested copies of that information and that they would want it available to them electronically.

"We asked what technologies they were familiar with, and to be honest with you, we were a little surprised by the response, because the patient population is very familiar with EHR technology and with portals – they are very tech-savvy. We gave them the opportunity to share personal feedback and the biggest part of that feedback was 'I want to use these tools, but I want them to be easy to use.' We had several patients who spoke out. One said 'I would love to use it, but my doctor's portal is always empty. It was set up, but nothing's in it.' So I think patients may be a little more ready for this than providers expected them to be."

Munn added that, although the initial funding for the initiative comes through Medicaid, the forum is also emphasizing the importance of well-considered consumer HIT outreach no matter who their payer may be.

"Managed care organizations are just as interested in this because they want consumers to take more ownership of their healthcare as it relates to prevention, and if they have a chronic disease, to take more action in managing it," she said. "And, many employers are self-insured and they have to understand that what this council recommends and how it can translate into real life can be a positive for them in that their employees can have access to critical information, and better manage their care.

"So it's in the best interest of all parties to work on this, and listen to the voice of the customer. Like I said, that's common sense."

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