The federal government is providing incentives for the use of health IT right now, investing tens of billions of dollars in its adoption. Health IT is a foundation for health reform and for many of the new models of care now being developed or tested. At this key moment as health IT is being rolled out, the National Partnership for Women & Families commissioned an unprecedented study to examine consumer views on health IT with research directed by Alan Westin, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Columbia University. It was conducted by Harris Interactive.
"We fielded this survey now, in the early stages of the transformation to EHRs, to assess consumer views and to measure whether the ways doctors and hospitals are using them is what patients want and need," said Christine Bechtel, vice president at the National Partnership. Bechtel also represents patients and families on the federal Health IT Policy Committee. "For health IT to deliver on its promise, consumers must support it. If they don’t, we will see political pressure for repeal and the promise will be squandered. What we found is encouraging, but there are still potential landmines ahead."
"This survey draws attention to a critical, but sometimes overlooked, facet of health information technology — patients and their families need to be at the center of efforts to modernize health care’s information infrastructure," said Dr. Farzad Mostashari, National Coordinator for Health IT, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Making IT Meaningful: How Consumers Value and Trust Health IT takes an unprecedented look at consumer confidence in health IT. Survey respondents had an ongoing relationship with a care provider and knew whether that provider uses an electronic or paper record system. Among the findings:
An oversample of Hispanic adults found that those whose doctors use EHRs were significantly more likely than others to see them as valuable in helping them personally in some important ways, such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, understanding their health conditions and keeping up with their medications. At the same time, they were more likely both to report having experienced a data breach and to worry that more widespread adoption of EHRs will lead to even more such breaches.
"The survey shows that patients see tremendous value in the power of electronic health records to improve the way care is delivered by facilitating better communication and helping them become active partners in their own care. Its findings offer important messages about how to build, implement and use health IT systems in ways that are meaningful and beneficial to patients and their families," Mostashari said.
"At the same time, patients are also saying the success of advanced information technology rests on a foundation of trust that must be vigilantly protected," he added. "Encouraging the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records is important, but the ultimate goal should be to leverage information technology in ways that lead to higher quality care, more coordinated care, and care that is truly patient-centered."
"At a time when America’s taxpayers have made such a large investment in the implementation of health IT, we have an obligation to use their dollars wisely and get this right," the National Partnership’s Bechtel said. "Amplifying the voices of consumers is key to success. This survey gives consumers a voice."
The survey was conducted from August 3 to August 22, 2011. The respondent pool was 1,961 adults. It was funded by the Commonwealth Fund, Merck & Co., Inc., WellPoint, Inc. and the California HealthCare Foundation. It is intended to serve as a baseline for longitudinal tracking, and the survey instrument has been made available for public use.
The survey report includes a series of policy recommendations in the areas of consumer education, and functional and privacy requirements for a variety of federal programs.
NOTE: The new survey is available at www.NationalPartnership.org/HIT. As a leader of the Consumer Partnership for eHealth, the National Partnership published a Consumer Platform for Health IT last year; it is available here.
The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at www.NationalPartnership.org.