People don't know what they don't know

This just in: The public doesn't understand electronic health records, or how health IT can influence care quality.

I know, I know, it came as a huge surprise when Government Health IT reported this week about new Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) study (.pdf) that shows consumers often don't perceive EHRs as having great quality benefits. As Government Health IT notes, "'the specific issue of health IT is not because they do not perceive a strong connection between health IT and healthcare quality,' the study found. Participants believed that health IT could affect quality only in limited ways, such as making healthcare more convenient and efficient and avoiding errors caused by poor handwriting."

At least the public sees some connection between EHRs and quality. That's more than the knuckleheads on Capitol Hill debating "health reform"--a phrase I use loosely--seem to understand. They're still talking about how to save money by expanding insurance coverage, not how to, you know, actually make care better and keep people healthier--things that will bring down costs, too.

The stronger public concern, according to the study, is about privacy. "Many of the participants believed that consumers owned their data and needed a role in making sure that their data were secure and used only in ways that they authorized. The participants also said that they should be asked for their consent before their medical data are electronically stored, and many said that they should be able to elect to leave their data in paper format," the Government Health IT story says.

If that's the case, consumers may know a lot more than many hospitals. How many facilities still throw their hands up and scream, "HIPAA," when patients ask to see their records? Ah, folks, the HIPAA privacy rules already make it clear that patients, not institutions, own the information in their records. The HIPAA provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act reiterate and strengthen this principle.

Well, now we have a better idea why the current health reform debate is so misguided. The angry mobs are screaming, "Socialism!" or making laughable demands like, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare." They should be demanding better access to their own health information. And those of us in the health IT field need to do a better job communicating that message.

Speaking of the stimulus legislation, Randy Spratt, executive VP and CTO/CIO, at McKesson Corp., discussed some of the more vexing provisions of ARRA, including a sweeping new requirement that now holds your vendors and other business associates accountable securing electronic patient data. Readers can view on demand, free, at - Neil