HHS’ Strategy Aims to Enable Individuals to Access and Interact with their Health Data

By Lisa-Nicole Sarnowski, ONC
Twitter: @ONC_HealthIT

The 2022-2026 HHS Strategic Plan is Live!

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) released the HHS Strategic Plan (Plan) for fiscal years 2022-2026, which addresses the complex, multifaceted, and evolving health and human services matters facing our nation. We look forward to advancing the Plan, including the strategies to improve the access, exchange, and use of electronic health information for patients, providers, payers, and other health and health care stakeholders.

The Plan aligns with the 2020-2025 Federal Health IT Strategic Plan and includes a strong focus on supporting patients’ access to their data. Here at ONC we’re committed to supporting patients’ ability to securely access and manage their health information when and where they need it.

Convenient Access is Here

We are all patients and there comes a moment after every medical visit when you remember questions that you forgot to ask. I know that’s happened to me on several occasions, and it can be frustrating, leaving me to play phone tag with a busy medical office – or worse – wait until my next appointment for answers to my questions. For me, it can be helpful to have access to real-time information such as lab results, so I can prepare questions and meaningfully engage at upcoming appointments or, in some cases, follow up through email or secure messaging through a patient portal.

Patients like me from across the country are benefiting from unprecedented access to their personal health information such as lab results, physician notes, and diagnosis information. A recent ONC data brief found that nearly all hospitals allow patients to electronically view their information using a patient portal! This is tremendous growth from a decade ago when only a quarter of hospitals offered that capability. Further, the data brief found that 70 percent of hospitals enable patients to access their health information using a mobile device or other software applications.

Our work in support of the HHS Strategic Plan will build on this progress as we continue to connect healthcare with health data through interoperable health IT. The beauty of the availability of electronic health information comes in the ways it can help simplify our lives—quicker access to information saves time and improves our overall care experience, as patients spend less time worrying about unanswered questions and more time actively engaged in their health. Nearly 40 percent of individuals nationwide accessed a patient portal in 2020—a 13 percentage point increase since 2014 (Individuals Access and Use of Online Medical Records and Smartphone Health Apps, 2020). The same data brief found that 85 percent of smartphone users who had downloaded a health app used that app at least once in the last year. Encouraging and empowering patients to understand their overall health profile enables them to take steps to improve it.

The Best is Yet to Come

ONC looks forward to advancing the goals of the HHS Strategic Plan and building on the progress being made toward a more interoperable and secure health system that works for all so that patients can continue to play a more active role in their health and health care.

I encourage everyone to check out the Plan. We look forward to working with stakeholders as we advance the HHS goals, and hope you join us at our all-virtual ONC Annual Meeting sessions in April where we will continue our discussion on patient access.

This article was originally published on the Health IT Buzz and is syndicated here with permission.