ONC Announces New Patient Guide for Accessing Health Records

The first challenge of the new multi-agency MyHealthEData initiative? Getting people to a website.

Screenshot from the ONC Guide to Getting and Using Your Health Records website.

At HIMSS last month in Las Vegas, Nevada, CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced a multi-agency initiative called MyHealthEData meant to help patients get their hands on their own health data.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) released an online guide to support that effort. The ONC Guide to Getting and Using Your Health Records is an intuitive online walkthrough that underscores the value of a health record, a patient’s right to access it, and the channels by which they can do that.

“It’s important that patients and their caregivers have access to their own health information so they can make decisions about their care and treatments,” Don Rucker, MD, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, said in an official statement.

According to a recent Data Brief from ONC, 52% of Americans were offered access to their electronic health record (EHR) last year—a little more than half of those who were actually took the opportunity to view it. Individuals whose healthcare providers encouraged them to take a look at their records were far more likely to do so.

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That fact that more than half were offered access at all is itself a sign of improvement: In 2014, only 42% of Americans were offered access. But a big issue that healthcare, and the MyHealthEData initiative, will have to address would be the 48% of Americans who still aren’t actively being offered access.

The new online guide might help, but getting patients to the site in the first place might be a challenge—the same Data Brief notes that individuals may be unaware that they even have the right or ability to view such information.

Government officials have long railed for better patient empowerment through access to their health records. In speaking appearances, Biden Cancer Initiative President Greg Simon has recounted how his boss, former Vice President Joe Biden, used to have heated exchanges with EHR vendor executives.

“Biden said ‘It’s none of your business [why I want them], if I want to nail them to the walls in my kitchen that’s my business. I don’t need to understand all 1,000 pages, I want my records and I will find someone who will explain them to me,’” he recounted once.

With a concerted effort on behalf of the new administration—MyHealthEData is being led by the White House Office of American Innovation—it turns out there’s 1 or 2 things in healthcare that both ends of the political spectrum can agree upon.

“Patients need to be able to control their information and know that it is secure and private. Having access to their medical information will help them make decisions about their care and have a better understanding of their health,” Verma said when she introduced the initiative during her HIMSS speech. “Let’s not let what began this week in Vegas stay in Vegas.”

To do that, they’ll first need to get patients to a website.

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