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Patient Engagement on the Rise due to Blue Button Initiative

By Vera Gruessner

- Patient engagement continues to grow among medical facilities including hospitals and clinics. Ever since the federal government established meaningful use requirements under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, eligible hospitals and providers were mandated to enable their patient base to view, download, and transmit their electronic medical information.

Blue Button Initiative

As such, patient portals were developed and patient engagement strategies were in place to promote greater knowledge and understanding of medical conditions in an effort to boost overall health outcomes. After all, a patient who is more engaged will likely adhere to their medication and focus on wellness initiatives such as a strict diet and exercise regime.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) recently mentioned in a HealthITBuzz blog post how new medical technologies have strengthened patient engagement throughout hospital systems around the country.

The very first attempt at increasing patient engagement began in 2010 with the Blue Button initiative among the Department of Veteran’s Affairs where consumers were able to download their electronic health data. Since then patient engagement has grown exponentially.

ONC has, for example, expanded the Blue Button initiative and more than 650 organizations have been included in supporting patient engagement by enabling their consumer base to download electronic patient information via the Blue Button. Over the last five years, sincere progress has taken place that has improve access to technology and health information among American families.

According to an ONC data brief, more than half – 55 percent – of people offered the opportunity to access their electronic medical data took a look at their record at least once over the last 12 months.

Additionally, in 2014, about half of patients nationwide took part in either sending or receiving text messages from their healthcare provider, using a mobile health app, or viewing laboratory results online.

The reported amount of information available in patient portals varied slightly. While about three-quarters of patient reported having a current list of medications in their portals, nearly all – 92 percent – reported having access to their laboratory test results.

The results also show that the majority of individuals who access their electronic records do so in order to better track their overall health. Additionally, about 10 percent of users also corrected the information found in their electronic patient record.

ONC does state that there are some barriers the healthcare industry needs to overcome in order to truly garner patient engagement through the portal such as improving ineffective user design platforms and barring fees for online access.

“Access to individual health information online is only a starting point. As a community, we have more work to do to ensure that individuals and their families can fully digest and understand their health information. We need to remove artificial barriers of entry, meaning difficult in-person authentication processes, poor user design platforms or costs for online access so that individuals can receive their data in a digestible format of their choosing and can share their data whenever and with whomever they trust,” wrote ONC Coordinator Karen B. DeSalvo in the HealthITBuzz blog post.

“Fortunately, our community is already rising to meet these challenges. At the [Fifth Annual Consumer Health IT] Summit, we’ll spotlight the ways in which our supporters have responded to the needs of consumers, their families, and caregivers by providing innovative technology solutions that bridge communication gaps, and foster greater collaboration with care teams. These critical advancements support consumer wellness and improve health outcomes. We will also highlight industry innovation that welcomes — and encourages — consumer participation in healthcare through patient-generated health data.”


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