Healthcare IT executives may believe the digital revolution is mostly behind them, after the long push to implement EHRs. They will be surprised that EMR adoption has only paved the way for an increased desire to enable patient-owned electronic medical records.

The convergence of healthcare activism, consumerism and technology will make consumers demand stewardship or ownership of their own data. Recent trends such as the following will only increase the pressure:

  • Unprecedented cost increases and loss of benefits. The politicization of healthcare has made consumers acutely aware of their increasing costs. Costs of both coverage and direct expenses are going up at a faster rate than consumers’ ability to pay. Employers are shifting their increased costs to employees through premium sharing, deductibles and co-insurance. As consumers are being pushed to be conscientious purchasers, they will also need and want direct access to their healthcare information.
  • Patient loyalty requires better customer service. Gen Xers and Millennials—and some Boomers—navigate banking, shopping and travel with ease on the internet. Yet they cannot access their healthcare information, schedule appointments or supply new information or updates to their data online. They will demand better customer service, and that includes their full data, because they feel the need to make better healthcare decisions. Providers looking for higher patient engagement and loyalty will begin to meet consumer demands for supplying their data.
  • Proprietary patient records limit patients and cause poor continuity of care. Technology can provide more detailed interoperable records to consumers, but there is no incentive for providers to do so. Providers would rather create access portals for patients to see test reports, but this solution is lacking—there are no images, diagnostic, medication, outcome history or patient analytics. There is insufficient data both for the patient to understand his or her status, or to seek second opinions. And that is just the beginning—it doesn’t integrate data from other provider systems.

EMRs could trade data broadly, but this almost never happens—even between systems on the same EMR. Patients are left to manage the situation on their own. Even in 2017, it can take months for patients to get real data from one provider to another in the same city, leading to disruptions in continuity of care.

The new reality is that healthcare consumers not only will own their medical records, but they should.

There are real informed choices to be made by the patient in healthcare. There is not only room for patients in the medical decision process, it is essential. Only by being able to review and manage their own data can consumers have the medical literacy they need to participate in those decisions.

The big tech companies all recognize the prospective possibilities of creating centralized consumer health records, the failure of Google and Microsoft to do so notwithstanding. They all know the possibilities of housing the patient’s record via a CDA standard transfer. We are seeing startups that will be storage houses for patients’ records, as well as data platforms that can share communications and progress notes as well as clinical data.

Consumers will undoubtedly begin choosing providers based on their adoption of consumer-friendly practices and technology.

Providers should start now to get more data to patients. Most providers are struggling to manage competing technology efforts. Adoption of EMRs, analytics, revenue cycle software and population health and marketing has left them exhausted. Now is not the time for a break. Providers without a patient portal should consider it as a top priority. However, they also need to develop a stronger consumer-focused strategy to transmit data to patients, perhaps including:

  • Collection of patient preferences for data availability and transmission is essential for planning a strategy.
  • A push for EMRs to develop fast mechanisms for expanding the data available through patient portals, and make downloads of this data easier.
  • A streamlined start to development of patient-owned records is smart. This can be done by partnering to integrate medical record data and transmit it securely to patients, or working with a patient data company to accept transmissions of data that the patient can use.
  • Outreach to patients with data will enhance shared goals. This can include sharing of quality measures applicable to the patient, so that patients are aware of both their quality status as well as how their providers are being measured.

As the environment pivots to adjust to the new driving force of healthcare consumers, healthcare providers will need to be ready, because consumers act fast.

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Theresa Hush

Theresa Hush

Theresa Hush is the CEO and co-founder of Roji Health Intelligence. She helps organizations take actions that will direct their future through meaningful technology and programs.