National Consumers League

Health IT: The next patient frontier

By Sarah Hijaz, Health Policy Intern

Modern technology has dramatically improved the way we communicate, connect, and learn. It is also beginning to improve the way we practice medicine and treat patients. On the 5th anniversary of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which created a platform for health information technology to revolutionize our health care system, we are taking a look at what technology has and will do for our health care.

Health information technology (HIT) is the new driving force in the health care system. It allows health care providers to quickly search for patient records, have automatic filing systems, and in the future can create an inter-operable electronic database connecting patient records in real-time. Electronic health records (EHRs) present an amazing opportunity to advance care and improve health care provider workflow. For instance, EHRs make it easier to find out what tests have been ordered and medications prescribed by other providers. This cuts down on the chance of unnecessary, duplicate testing and inappropriate prescribing for medicines that should not be taken together.

Health IT also empowers patients.  Prior to the rise of electronic records, many patients, especially those unfamiliar with the healthcare system, thought that their health records were only for the health care provider. When in fact, your health record is yours—and patients should feel free to access it and know what information is in their record.  Now with EHRs, patients can go online and access their health information and make queries of the provider in real time. Some EHRs even allow patients to input information about their health to share with their doctor. By being able to quickly access and easily retain and send out copies of their EHRs, patients have a greater level of control of their personal information. In fact, a recent survey by the National Partnership for Women & Families has shown that 80% of individuals who have online EHR access take advantage of that access.