Todd Park: Patient engagement will 'vastly' improve healthcare

Addressing a packed room at the Health Privacy Summit in Washington, D.C., this week, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park emphasized the importance of federal efforts to engage patients in their own healthcare.

"We're in the middle of a huge cultural shift to get patients access to their records," Park said. "Patient engagement--to quote Leonard Kish--may be the blockbuster drug of the 21st Century. This will vastly improve our healthcare system."

Park, who previously served as CTO for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, spoke at length about the evolution of the Blue Button, which gives patients easy access to their medical records. He said that more than 88 million Americans now have access to their data via Blue Button, a number that is expected to grow to 115 million by the end of the year. More than one million people, to date have downloaded their data via Blue Button, he said.

"From the very top of government, we're incredibly serious about making sure patients can get a copy of their own records," Park said. "It's a simple but powerful concept for patients."

When asked if sequestration has impacted Blue Button efforts, Park said that it has not, pointing to the collaborative, public-private nature of the project. "It's radically more efficient than hiring some super-secret government contractor," Park said, tongue-in-cheek. "But it's an effort that depends on continued engagement."

Added Park: "People who are not well care a ton about access to their information. … Information can heal, but most powerfully if it's in the hands of patients."

In a post to the White House blog last week, Park said that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009--under which the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act was enacted--has "catalyzed" the adoption of electronic health records. That, he added, is leading to "more proactive" care that ultimately will help to shrink health costs.

He also said that the Affordable Care Act is helping to unleash a "rising tide of innovation" that is putting the latest evidenced-based tools within reach for clinicians.