It is no surprise that understanding health information and navigating the U.S. health system can overwhelm even the savviest patients with advanced literacy skills. Data from the National Adult Literacy Survey suggest that nearly 50% of all adults have problems understanding many aspects of healthcare, including prescriptions, appointment slips, and health education materials.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), passed in 2010, places an increased focus on health literacy as a means of engaging patients in their care and improving health outcomes. According to the PPACA, there are three main areas where patient engagement requires improvement: patient compliance, disease management and prevention, and shared decision making. In order to improve each of these areas, the patient must be able to comprehend what their physician is communicating to them, recall the information, and know what is expected of them after leaving the office.
Although it is not the sole answer to the health literacy problem, health information technology (IT) is viewed as an enabler of patient engagement, making clear and actionable health information, instructions, and educational resources accessible to patients, and doing so in an automated and targeted way. Using core electronic health record (EHR) system functionalities—such as results management, health information and data that support granular reporting and population health management, order entry and management, disease registries, decision support, and electronic communication for patient support—can strengthen and automate the process for patient engagement. Utilization of health IT can help fight constraints such as restricted time with the patient, limited comprehension, logistical problems, and cultural barriers to patient education and engagement.
For this reason, use of health IT in the physician’s office to support patient engagement has been a key focus of national health and quality improvement initiatives like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Electronic Health Records Incentive Program.
Patient Engagement Through Meaningful Use of the EHR System
A key goal for the inclusion of patient engagement objectives as part of the CMS EHR Incentive Program is to ensure that the functionality of the EHR and its supporting systems is being fully used by providers to support patients in their health and care.
Among the 35 objectives and measures providers must meet in order to become a “meaningful user” of health IT—making them eligible for up to $64,000 in bonus payment from the CMS EHR Incentive Program—are a series of objectives focused on using the EHR system to facilitate patient engagement and foster an environment that includes the patient as a partner in healthcare decision making through the delivery of salient and timely messaging, support for self management, social support, and the delivery of content aimed towards personal demographics such as age, race, gender, ethnicity, cultural background, and primary language.