ONC releases patient, provider resources for patient engagement

By Jonah Comstock

Last week the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT launched two new online tools to connect patients to their data, a series of consumer-facing videos to educate patients about their data access rights and a provider-facing “Patient Engagement Playbook” to walk hospitals through the steps to patient engagement.

“Many people are not fully aware of their right to access their own medical records under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), including the right to access a copy when their health information is stored electronically,” Lucia Savage, ONC’s chief privacy officer, said in a statement. “The videos we released today highlight the basics for individuals to get access to their electronic health information and direct it where they wish, including to third party applications.”

The three videos for patients each tackle a different aspect of HIPAA. The first video describes what medical records are, when a patient has access to them, and when a provider can withhold information. The second video goes into more detail, educating consumers on what’s acceptable for providers to charge for access to records and the length of an acceptable wait time. Finally, the third video shows what rights patients have to share their information with third parties, like family members. 

The Patient Engagement Playbook takes the form of an online textbook, with tips, processes, and real stories from vendors and providers about implementing patient engagement in hospital workflows. The first chapter deals with patient enrollment and patient portal set up, the second describes different patient needs and features that can help meet those needs, the third deals with caregiver proxy access, and the fourth gives tips about implementing patient-generated health data.

On the access website, ONC describes it as an “evolving resource”, suggesting that the agency will continue to add to and adapt the playbook.

“We must engage individuals in order to advance the safe and secure flow of health information,” Dr. Tom Mason, ONC’s chief medical officer, said in a statement. “The Playbook we’re releasing today provides clinicians with the resources they need to get the most out of their health IT and help patients put their electronic information to work to better manage their health.”

Around the same time as this announcement, the ONC was taken to task for not focusing on patients sufficiently in its proposed quality measures for MACRA. A letter from the Consumer Partnership for eHealth asked ONC to incorporate more patient-related measures.