Promoting patient health data access is an important part of increasing patient engagement, said the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) in a newly released Patient Engagement Toolkit.
The toolkit emphasizes the importance of patients being aware of their rights to access their own health data, and explains that providers need to educate patients about the process This is a vital part of a patient’s transition from a passive consumer of healthcare to an active one.
“Access to personal health information is crucial for patients to transition from a passive recipient to a driver in the new patient-centric healthcare delivery paradigm,” the toolkit says. “The ability to access both personal healthcare information and educational research on medical conditions is a key driver of self-activation.”
Providers can make patient access to health data simple through the use of a patient portal, a website on which patients can access their EHR data and communicate with their physicians. Walking patients through the portal is an important step to boosting patient engagement.
“Encouraging consumers to access their health record at their provider’s office through a patient portal and assist them in accessing their health record if the provider does not offer a patient portal,” AHIMA says.
The organization also puts some patient engagement responsibilities on the patient. Whenever going into a doctor’s appointment, patients should be prepared and ready to be involved in their own healthcare.
“One way healthcare consumers can become engaged is by doing their homework outside of office visits with their healthcare providers,” the toolkit says. “Prior to a visit with a provider, the healthcare consumer should compile a list of questions to be asked at the appointment.”
The challenge is getting patients from the point of disengagement to actually doing that “homework” before going into their appointments. While emphasizing patient portal use is important in doing this, providers need to employ other strategies to help patients become active in their care.
“A known consumer/patient engagement challenge is that the patient may not be interested in becoming engaged in the healthcare delivery process. In this scenario, the patient is not interested in driving the process and engaging in all the critical aspects of co-decision making,” the toolkit notes. “This level of disengagement could be troublesome especially with patients who face a chronic healthcare condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, or other ongoing health problems.”
Healthcare professionals often tout the value of empathy and personal connection between providers and patients. While such methods are often effective, AHIMA also suggests going further to explicitly put health information directly into the patient’s hands.
Patients who are disengaged rarely, if ever, check their patient portals and digital health files, the organization explained. In those cases, providers are tasked with underscoring the importance of doing so. Providers are also responsible for putting printed hard copies of the records into the patient’s hands until they have adopted the patient portal.
AHIMA created this patient engagement toolkit due to the changing landscape of healthcare delivery. Between telehealth, the emergence of EHRs, and social media in healthcare, healthcare is evolving, and the role of patient engagement is changing.
AHIMA executives say that because of that, healthcare professionals need to learn how to put care responsibility into the hands of the patients, as well.
“Traditionally the clinical care team played the major role in the patient experience,” said AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon, MBA, RHIA, CAE, FACHE, FAHIMA, in a statement released with the toolkit. “But the change in the way patients consume their health information means today’s HIM professional plays an important role in giving healthcare consumers the tools needed to make all interactions and communications with their providers meaningful and efficient.”