As reported in a Health Affairs blog, this week is the first ever Health Information Technology Week! There’s a new consumer health IT website, www.HealthIT.gov, and a new Personal Health Record (PHR) Model Privacy Notice. At a Consumer Health IT Summit, HHS today announces that it will propose a new rule (pdf) to allow consumers to access their lab result directly from the lab. While it is preferred that consumers get lab results from providers, often the results do not get reported back to patients from providers. “Something like 20 percent of lab results never get picked up by providers, and then patients literally have no recourse,” said Todd Park, the chief technology officer at HHS, in an interview with Health Affairs Blog. Allowing patients to directly access their results gives them another tool to empower themselves, and the on-line applications are supposed to translate the information into language that can easily understood by non-clinicians.
While I certainly support consumers having easy access to all of the information about their own health, this feels like a band-aid solution to a larger problem. This does not solve the problem of why providers often do not get lab results and/or do not report them back to patients. And speaking as a consumer, I have mixed feelings about going on-line to read my lab results without a provider nearby to help me think through what the results may mean for my health or the health of a loved one. Maybe not such a big deal if the results are normal, but potentially a big deal if I read that the results are abnormal and there may be consequences for my health.
This again goes back to the need to reform our health care delivery systems so that care is better coordinated. If one entity is responsible for staying on top of everything happening with my health care, making sure all specialists, labs, etc., are communicating, then that entity could also make sure that I, the patient, will be notified of my test results by a person who can answer the many questions I may have.
So yes, the more access to information the better. But not at the expense of the human touch.