The 21st Century Cures Act requires that physicians provide electronic copies of personal health records to patients upon request, including through third-party health apps of the patient’s choice, which has been met by pushback in some corners of the medical community.
Some providers are more willing to cooperate than others, but the fact of the matter is the law is here to stay, and non-compliance can lead to massive fines and penalties. Understandably, physicians are also wary of the law’s requirements, as patients now have unprecedented access to their health information, including instant access to lab reports and test results.
With the train having left the station, physicians, payers and other providers now need to understand that these new regulations can in fact help make our healthcare system more efficient, as well as lead to improved care and lower costs.
When patients take the initiative to gather their health records from providers, it eliminates the time it takes to make inter-clinician requests, and it also gives physicians a more accurate, complete view of a patient’s medical history when they come in for an appointment. There are only so many exams that can be conducted in one day, and patients are receiving less and less face time with their providers. If appointments are initiated with a comprehensive record on-hand, valuable time that was previously used on intake questions and health history could be redirected to deeper dives into the current chief complaint.
Many medical records, up to 70% by some estimates, can contain errors, some of which can be serious. By giving patients the ability to review and correct any errors prior to an exam, physicians can gain an additional level of comfort in making a diagnosis and writing prescriptions, having used information verified by the patients themselves. This can also likely lead to less liability for the provider, as well as improved outcomes.
The senior population is one of the largest growing sectors of the population and, correspondingly, the number of caregivers is growing rapidly as well. As physicians grapple with the task of providing care for individuals who have many different specialists and medications, the process can be frustrating and time consuming. Caregivers are often stressed to their breaking point, getting caught in the middle of trying to advocate for their loved one while also managing their family’s healthcare.
New technology gives people visibility into the records of the individual(s) they’re caring for, as well as the ability to share this information with various physicians. This allows for a holistic care team to flourish, which improves communication and efficiencies, lowers costs and improves outcomes. The Cures Act is a massive benefit to providers in this way, as they are not constantly chasing down information while simultaneously making a time-sensitive diagnosis.
For those providing emergency services, current records can make the difference between life and death. Knowing a patient’s medical history and current prescriptions--as split-second decisions are being made--can make all the difference. An incredibly helpful feature found in one health app is the ability to store important documents, such as power of attorney and advanced directives, in case an important care decision needs to be made.
In conclusion, although it is a massive change in the healthcare system, records transparency is here it stay. The Cures Act has teeth and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their right to obtain their information. Rather than fight the inevitable, providers should embrace the change and use the law to their advantage.
Yes, situations like patients accessing lab reports before a physician can cause problems for both parties, but the answer is the need for improved patient-provider communication, which has needed to happen for a long time.
More informed patients, ones armed with comprehensive records that can be shared with caregivers and providers, is the next giant step forward in making the healthcare system more efficient. Physicians gain an additional layer of confidence in making diagnoses and prescribing medicines, while patients feel empowered to become advocates for themselves.
David Friede is vice president of DrOwl.