As part of the recently enacted stimulus bill the federal government is spending $19 billion to promote the adoption of electronic medical records by physicians. Yet, with all the focus on doctors, lawmakers have forgotten the most critical piece of the puzzle — patients.
Take the case of Joe (not his real name), a patient who came to see one of us recently. Joe is a thirty-something year-old with type 1 diabetes. After a rebellious few decades that included dozens of hospitalizations, he was finally re-engaged in his care. His most recent request — to access his electronic medical record. Joe wanted to track his hemoglobin A1c, an important marker of his diabetes, follow his blood pressure and take a closer look at his cholesterol. After all, it is his information in the clinic's commercially available electronic medical record. Sadly, his request couldn't be honored. Patient-access features simply hadn't been built in.
Health information technology offers great promise to patients. Patients can access their medical information online, communicate with doctors by email, schedule appointments through the web and take advantage of numerous tools to manage their own illnesses. They can become equal partners in their care.