By Nadine Robin, Health IT Program Manager (@HITNadine)

When I discussed my Christmas wish list in December 2013, I predicted 2014 as, “The Year of the Patient.” Patient portals, secure messaging, and Stage 2 Meaningful Use were on the horizon…would it be all that so many consumer and health IT advocates had hoped?

The results were certainly mixed. Many providers struggled with just implementing a portal, and even after all their hard work, they were met with disinterest in many communities. To help, health IT proponents (think Regional Extension Centers and HIEs) developed and provided them with consumer-facing materials explaining the benefits of sending secure messages, the value of EHRs and the role of HIEs among other resources. Beyond that, we health IT advocates worked with providers to give suggestions about how to engage patients in their health care, and yes, even then, a few providers fell short in those Meaningful Use measures.

The bottom line: We have providers ready to share information, yet a year later, we still have lagging numbers in the use of most patient portals and secure messaging functions in providers’ offices, which begs the question: “Does the average person realize the value of the information in their medical record?” 

Imagine buying a lottery ticket and its potential value. Would you buy it and then tell the cashier to just keep it and you’ll come back if you win and need it? Seems ridiculous, right? But the reality is, our medical records hold much more accurate data with a lot more likelihood that we will need it at some point – yet so many of us don’t ask for a copy or for electronic access. 

Yes, I said “copy.” And I use that word because my experiences over the years as a Meaningful Use expert and health IT advocate – not to mention as a health care consumer - have led me to recognize a hard truth: While we are committed to promoting and encouraging the interoperable sharing of health information among health care providers and consumers, the reality is that we have to get people to realize the value of their health information in any form. 

Here in Louisiana, over the next 18 months, in coordination with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), there will be a focused effort to educate the public on the value of their health information; their rights to access their health information; the importance of asking questions when they are with their providers; and yes, to help the public understand how great it all is when they can get that information through a patient portal.  

It’s a project with which I can personally identify. After writing out my Christmas wish list in 2013, I decided it was time to fulfill my own wish. I switched to a new primary care provider that could not only offer me a patient portal, but is also a Level 3 Recognized Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH).

The results: I receive responses to secure messages in less than 20 minutes, make appointments through the portal and enjoy better, faster care that is focused on my family. Even my young children have noticed the difference – they regularly comment on how much they appreciate our new provider taking the time to talk to them, even when they aren’t the focus of our visit.

That’s precisely the kind of health care for which I’ve been advocating for years.

For me, Louisiana’s patient engagement campaign is far more than just a statewide effort to improve health outcomes; rather, it’s about ensuring that my fellow health care consumers enjoy the same level of interaction and quality care as my own family. It’s about making sure that patients know that their health information belongs to them and how to use that information to make better decisions about their care. It’s about teaching them that they are truly the most important people in health care.

And that, to me, is the most important message we can deliver as we plan for the future.