Consumer health IT can dramatically impact patient care by facilitating such vital functions as medication management, remote patient monitoring, and tighter communication between patients and their care providers. The guide is particularly timely because in the next few years, health care providers will focus as never before on electronic linkages with their patients. Many hospitals and health systems have patient portals on the Internet, with access to rudimentary health record information, and perhaps the ability to e-mail physicians. Some offer mobile versions of those portals. But providers have so far been under no outside pressure to get patients to use those resources.
Patient-oriented health IT is officially on the national agenda through the federal “meaningful use” program, which gives billions in cash incentives to providers for using IT to improve care (and in 2015 is scheduled to start penalizing holdouts by reducing their Medicare payments). The most recent set of criteria for meaningful use, to be phased in starting in 2014, requires an active effort to link patients into the information loop. Not only do providers have to make patients’ information available to them online, they also have to show that at least 5% of the patients have accessed that information in a given year. That percentage is likely to increase with the next round of meaningful use requirements.