Testimony of Mark Savage: Opportunities and Challenges in Advancing Health Information Technology (March 22, 2016)

The National Partnership's Director of Health Information Technology Policy and Programs Mark Savage's testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology and Subcommittee on Health Care, Benefits, and Administrative Rules

Read Mark's full written testimony here.

"Good afternoon, Chairmen Hurd and Jordan, Ranking Members Kelly and Cartwright, and distinguished committee members. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

I am Mark Savage, Director of Health IT at the National Partnership for Women & Families – a non-profit, non-partisan organization that for 45 years has worked to improve the lives of women and families. We are deeply invested in improving the value and experience of health care, and ensuring that new models of delivery and payment help make consumers partners in their care with access to the right care at the right time.

I am delighted to be able to share the values, experiences and needs of patients and consumers who are using health information technology, such as online access and electronic data sharing with doctors, to improve their health and care. The National Partnership leads the Consumer Partnership for eHealth coalition and can speak broadly to the great opportunities that health IT presents – and the obstacles that still make it difficult to realize its full potential.

Health IT is the essential infrastructure for improving quality, care coordination and value in our health care system today. It is a critical tool for engaging consumers, who clearly recognize its value according to a national survey we commissioned in 2014. We found that nearly nine in 10 patients with online access to their health information use it. Notably, people who use online access frequently are much more likely than infrequent users to report that it motivates them to improve their health.

Patients recognize that health IT is essential to improving their access to care as well as their access to their health information. They know what we know, that health IT:

  • Helps patients and family caregivers communicate with their health care providers, share information, and manage their care;
  • Improves patients’ knowledge of their health and empowers them to take charge of their care plans;
  • Allows patients to correct errors or outdated information in their medical records, such as a missing drug allergy;
  • Enables patients to share treatment outcomes, such as pain levels, functional status and whether their health improved after the office visit;
  • Helps health care providers answer questions from patients by secure email, provide care via telehealth, and see the patients who need them most;
  • Gives patients more control over how much personal medical information is shared and how it is used; and
  • Much, much more.

Like electronic access in so many other parts of our lives, such as banking and retail, health IT enables real-time access to care and information and provides individuals with the convenience and control they need and expect in the 21st century. Health IT can also enhance patient trust and the privacy and security of patient data through encryption and other means.

The country has seen a rapid increase in health care providers’ adoption and use of health IT in recent years, but much work remains before the potential benefits reach all patients. We have an urgent imperative to break down barriers and continue the progress.

First, that begins with removing barriers to health information. The National Partnership runs the GetMyHealthData campaign, and through it we have learned that many patients continue to face astonishing barriers to getting their digital health records from their health care providers. We need to change that by advancing policies and programs that promote patients’ online access to and use of their health information.

Second, we need to clarify privacy and security requirements for sharing health data, because confusion persists about patients’ access rights. That means, for example, adding proactive education initiatives about what HIPAA requires and what it does not, and encouraging mobile app developers and technology vendors to post their privacy policies and data sharing practices in standardized ways.

Third, we need to enhance the usability of health information so that when patients access their medical data, they can understand and use it. For example, innovative apps could help patients organize their health information in ways they find most useful.

And fourth, we need to bridge existing digital divides, to help identify and reduce disparities in care. That means, for example, promoting online access to health information across diverse communities – and innovation in mobile apps can help.

In sum, patients and consumers applaud the progress to date – and they need more. Patients have a unique vantage point, for they are at the center of the health care and information sharing we are working to improve. Our goal must be to leverage health IT so it helps patients become real partners in their care and health. Only if we do that will we realize the full promise of health information technology."

About the National Partnership

The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to quality, affordable health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at NationalPartnership.org.

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