Top 3 Projects Boosting Patient Engagement, Health Data Access

By driving patient access to health data, these initiatives all drive patient engagement and patient involvement in care.

By Sara Heath

Patient engagement and patient access to health data are major buzzwords across the healthcare industry. With seemingly unanimous enthusiasm, providers, policymakers, and industry groups are singing the praises of the concept of patient access to health data due to the boost it gives to patient engagement.

patient access to health data

Below are some of the biggest industry-wide policies and initiatives helping to boost patient access to health information and patient engagement:


OpenNotes is a nationwide initiative aimed at giving patients access to their doctors’ notes at the end of appointments.  This practice hopes to increase transparency in healthcare and empower patients to begin a meaningful dialogue with their providers.  As a result OpenNotes advocates expect an increase in quality care and a decrease in preventable adverse conditions.

Many of those goals have indeed been achieved. A recently-released two-year study by Geisinger Health System shows that OpenNotes helped improve medication adherence and patient engagement. Patients who were given access to their health data as a part of the OpenNotes philosophy were five percent more likely to stay adherent to their medications.

READ MORE: Top Strategies for Collecting Patient Financial Responsibility

"We demonstrated that encouraging patients to utilize a web portal to view their doctors' notes is a cost effective and efficient way to influence medication-taking behavior," said Eric A. Wright, PharmD, MPH, the leader of the study. "Based on this study and our prior OpenNotes reports, increasing patient access to fully transparent doctors' notes should be on the radar screen of all health care providers.”

Because of its success, OpenNotes is receiving industry attention and increased funding. At the end of last year, several industry benefactors including Cambia Health Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Peterson Center on Healthcare, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced a $10 million initiative to help expand the project.

This funding is expected to help expand the OpenNotes initiative, allowing 50 million patients access to their physicians’ notes.

Stage 2 meaningful use requirements

Starting with Stage 2 meaningful use, providers participating in the EHR Incentive Programs must attest to patient engagement measures by providing their patients with access to an online patient portal.

READ MORE: Better Assessments Needed for Patient EHR Note Readability

Such provisions were included in meaningful use to help promote patient-centered care, increasing the overall value of care.

Getting patients more engaged in their health care is a proven method to improve outcomes and care coordination,” said Robert Tagalicod, director of the Office of eHealth Standards and Services in a 2013 article from CMS. “That is why we made patient engagement an important focus of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs Stage 2 of meaningful use. We believe that eligible professionals, eligible hospitals, and critical access hospitals are in the best position to encourage patients to use health IT to better understand and participate in their own health care.”

However, boosting patient engagement is apparently easier said than done. By April 2015, CMS came to realize that their initial 5 percent patient engagement threshold was too large a roadblock for some providers. Many providers felt the same way.

As a result, CMS reduced the patient engagement requirement. In a final rule released in October 2015, CMS ruled that providers must attest to a patient portal exchange with only one patient.

Although the meaningful use requirement was reduced, the sentiment remains the same – it is critical that patients be able to see their health information via a patient portal, and be able to communicate with their physicians.

READ MORE: Patient-Generated Health Data Discussions Increase Engagement

Blue Button Initiative

The Blue Button Initiative started as a program with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) on their MyHealtheVet patient portal. Equipped with a literal blue button, the Blue Button Initiative gave VA patients the ability to download their patient files directly from the portal.

According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), patients downloading their files through the Blue Button Initiative ideally could:

  • Share them with your doctor or trusted family members or caregivers

  • Check to make sure the information, such as your medication list, is accurate and complete

  • Keep track of when your child had his/her last vaccination

  • Have your medical history available in case of emergency, when traveling, seeking a second opinion, or switching health insurance companies

  • Plug your health information into apps and tools that help you set and reach personalized health goals.

The above-mentioned actions amount to an overall goal of patient engagement. By providing patients with easy access to their health information, they are able to personally manage their care and take action where necessary.

In 2012, the Blue Button Initiative spread to other private and public healthcare organizations, and was transferred to the jurisdiction of the ONC. Presently, the Blue Button Initiative has been adopted by over 450 healthcare organizations.

As these campaigns and initiatives continue to drive onward, so will the trends toward better and more ubiquitous patient engagement strategies. Going forward, these initiatives, and other patient engagement trends, will likely gain more momentum, driving the healthcare industry closer to its goals of patient-centered, value-based care.


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