In various conversations on how to improve patient care, the importance of health literacy is often raised. Health literacy is needed as it relates to effective patient engagement and healthy habits. Information and knowledge create greater awareness of how to live healthier and interact with doctors in a more meaningful way.
Another element of health literacy needs to include health IT literacy. With about 78% of care providers now using electronic health records (EHR) and wearable technology gaining momentum, healthcare is moving into the digital age. Patients will not need go deep into the technology, but a base understanding will be required.
Although this is not a complete list, we need to begin somewhere. Highlighted below are some basic health IT elements to raise the literacy levels of patients.
Key Health Laws
Affordable Care Act: This law generates intense feelings and debate. The Medicaid.gov site defines the Affordable Care Act in this way:
“…provides Americans with better health security by putting in place comprehensive health insurance reforms that will:
Hold insurance companies accountable,
Lower health care costs,
Guarantee more choice, and
Enhance the quality of care for all Americans.”
Essentially, the Affordable Care Act expands Medicaid coverage to low-income individuals and works toward adding improvements to our healthcare system. Read more about your healthcare rights here.
HITECH / Meaningful Use: In health IT circles, most will know what Meaningful Use is and where it came from. Move outside this circle and most will just think the drive to electronic health record adoption is a part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Meaningful Use was born out of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka Stimulus bill) in which the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) was buried. Meaningful Use is a part of HITECH and, together, they seek:
“…to improve American health care delivery and patient care through an unprecedented investment in health information technology. The provisions of the HITECH Act are specifically designed to work together to provide the necessary assistance and technical support to providers, enable coordination and alignment within and among states, establish connectivity to the public health community in case of emergencies, and assure the workforce is properly trained and equipped to be meaningful users of EHRs.”
Simply stated, HITECH/Meaningful Use is an incentive program to move patient records from paper to an electronic format, which will then enable secure, efficient exchange of patient data, and provide patients easier access to their records.
EHR – Electronic Health Record: According to the HealthIT.gov website:
“An electronic health record (EHR) is a digital version of a patient’s paper chart. EHRs are real-time, patient-centered records that make information available instantly and securely to authorized users.”
An important element to an EHR is it contains all relevant patient information from different clinicians involved in a patient’s care.
PHR – Personal Health Record: According to American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA),
“The PHR is a tool that you can use to collect, track and share past and current information about your health or the health of someone in your care. Sometimes this information can save you the money and inconvenience of repeating routine medical tests. Even when routine procedures do need to be repeated, your PHR can give medical care providers more insight into your personal health story.”
Patients own and manage their health data – you own it, you maintain it. Having the ability to electronically receive relevant data from care providers in a usable, efficient way is very helpful.
Key Privacy and Security Elements
HIPAA – Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act: Finding a concise definition for HIPAA is challenging. On HHS.gov, the following explanation is good:
“Most of us believe that our medical and other health information is private and should be protected, and we want to know who has this information. The Privacy Rule, a Federal law, gives you rights over your health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information. The Privacy Rule applies to all forms of individuals’ protected health information, whether electronic, written, or oral. The Security Rule is a Federal law that requires security for health information in electronic form.”
Even better, watch this quick video:
Your rights include saying who can see your data from clinical visits, and providers are responsible for securing your data collected during these visits.
PHI – Protected Health Information: Since protected health information was used in the HIPAA definition, we should address it. The National Institutes of Health highlights PHI as “individually identifiable health information that is transmitted or maintained in any form or medium (electronic, oral, or paper) by a covered entity or its business associates, excluding certain educational and employment records.”
Essentially, PHI is your health data.
Key Health Actions
Quantified Self: There is much more health data available because there are more tracking devices to use. Quantified Self, or wearable tech, are interchangeable terms and what it means you are proactively tracking (quantifying) your health metrics. Watches, mobile phones, apps, and other devices make the recording of your daily health information easy.
By tracking your health status, the objective is to understand your healthy habits and their impact as well as keep chronic conditions monitored and stable.
With better and timelier data, your health patterns are recognized and can be adjusted more effectively, as needed. Think diet, exercise, blood sugar, heart rate, and much more… recorded, tracked, and shared as you define.
Interoperability: Inevitably in health IT conversations, the lack or challenge of sharing patient data between providers, applications, and devices will arise. Healthcare has many data standards (e.g., HL7, X12) and different communication protocols (e.g., TCP/IP, Direct Project, Web Services).
For data to flow, each application vendor needs to open up their application or device to send and receive data. After this, the data differences need to be understood and then mapped. Integration solutions exist to orchestrate this patient data flow, but the considerations are many: application perimeters, privacy and security requirements, data specifications, workflow necessities, and more.
Interoperability is achievable and, as a patient, requesting your data in an electronic, secure way will help facilitate this requirement.
What Does Health IT Literacy Look Like?
When health IT literacy works, it looks like a more fully engaged patient. The flow of health IT literacy may look like the illustration below. Pieces of the healthcare puzzle begin to fit together and patients have a broader perspective of how it all fits together, along with their important role within the healthy flow.
Raising Health IT Literacy
Healthcare has many components and, ultimately, the most essential elements are delivering high quality care in a timely and efficient manner. In the middle of this is you – the patient. Understanding what is healthy is core to health literacy. Understanding how your data is collected, stored, used, and exchanged is central to health IT literacy. We need to raise our health standards for both healthcare and health IT literacy, and this will take a community and your active participation.
What other key elements are required to raise health IT literacy? Add your thoughts and let’s expand this list to what is important for patients to grasp and use.
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