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Why meaningful use doesn't go far enough


American consumers' desire to access their health information online far exceeds medical providers' ability to share that information with them.

American consumers' desire to access their health information online far exceeds medical providers’ ability to share that information with them.

Those conclusions from a recent report suggest that federal meaningful use requirements don’t go far enough or fast enough, according to the Optum Institute, a division of big health insurer UnitedHealth Group that produced the report.

For example, about 75% of consumers are willing to go online to view their medical records, and more than 60% would like the ability to communicate with doctors online. Yet only about 40% of physicians have electronic health record (EHR) systems that support email communication or patient access to health records.

“Consumers increasingly seek out information and communicate online, while provider [health information technology (HIT)] systems lag behind,” the report states.

The report, which focuses on patient engagement, suggests that U.S. healthcare policy isn’t producing as much engagement as it could or should. For example, just 46% of physicians surveyed reported that their EHR systems provide patients with tailored information to assist in decision-making and self-management.

The report concludes that the bar has been “set too low” for federal meaningful use requirements, which determine incentive payments and penalties related to doctors’ use of HIT.

Specifically, in setting meaningful use requirements, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “took the conservative road, requiring that at least 50% of patients have access to their health information and that only 5% use that information and communicate with providers,” the report says.

The report closes by warning that failing to recognize the potential of HIT threatens to widen healthcare disparities in the U.S. (It should be noted that, as an affiliate of HIT firm OptumGroup, the Optum Institute has financial incentive to foster that perception – though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inaccurate.)

The survey was conducted online within the United States among 1,000 physicians, 2,870 adults, and 400 hospital executives between May and June, according to the report.

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