By Cindy Munn

If you ask a health care professional or a technology guru why health IT is valuable, you’ll get answers that focus on “evidence-based care models,” “data integrity” and “continuity of care,” but as with most things, there’s a much simpler answer to that question.

Let’s start with a hypothetical situation: Joe is 48 years old and overweight with a history of high cholesterol and high blood pressure. He’s already had one bypass and lives in fear of another one, so he sees his regular physician often, and every three months, he travels 80 miles to his cardiologist’s office for stress tests and check-ups. Joe also has enlisted the services of a dietitian in an effort to reduce his weight, and once every month, he drives 60 miles to her office. He carries his latest medical test results to each of these visits so every member of his care team is aware of what the others are doing. It’s a stressful situation for Joe, yet he continues because he’s made his health a priority for himself and his family – he is the very definition of an engaged patient.

We all know someone like Joe, so let’s talk about how health IT can make their situations better.

We must first recognize that we are no longer living in the 1950s, when we communicated via ‘snail mail’ and rotary-dial telephones, and computers and cell phones were thought to be the futuristic imaginings of sci-fi writers. We aren’t in the 1980s, when cell phones weighed three pounds, data was stored on floppy disks and email was unheard of. We are in the New Millennium, and technology has soared to new heights. Today, we get our news instantly via mobile apps on our cell phones, do our shopping and banking on the internet and talk to our loved ones through Skype and FaceTime.

Technology has changed our lives, and it is changing our health care, too.

For patients like Joe, it means no more hauling around paper medical records because electronic health records (EHRs) and health information exchanges (HIEs) have instantly connected all the members of his health care team to his complete medical history. It means no more long treks to distant doctors’ offices for routine checkups because Joe can now get his cardiology and dietary checkups via e-health technology at his local doctor’s office. It means Joe can use instant messaging to contact his dietitian to clarify an issue with his weight loss plan or to ask his cardiologist a question about his cholesterol medication. It means Joe’s care team can provide him with additional resources and tools to make informed decisions about his health and health care.

Health IT puts patients like Joe ‘in the know.’

As health care and health IT professionals, we use phrases like “clinical decision support systems,” “population health surveillance” and “integrated practice management,” but the bottom line is this: health IT is valuable because it makes health care better, safer and easier for people like Joe.

And in that way, health IT, as the saying goes, is ‘priceless.’

Editor’s Note: Cindy Munn, CEO of the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum, will present, “Aim to Sustain: Building a Business Model for HIE,” at the HIMSS 2014 Annual Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 26. Her presentation will include remarks on the value of health information technology in Louisiana. For details on this education session, click here.