In 2010 while the country was pushing against 10% unemployment and fighting about the stimulus package, the Obama administration went ahead and dumped $20 Billion into Electronic Health Records (EHRs).
The program, known as Meaningful Use, started out as a bribe for doctors: meaningfully use EHRs and you’ll get free money from Uncle Sam. Today, that carrot shifts to a stick. Providers just starting to participate this year have to demonstrate 3 months of compliance by October 1, 2014. Count backwards and you get to today.
Buried in the definition of Meaningful Use is a requirement that’s gone largely unnoticed - patients must be able to “View, Download and Transmit” their medical information online. The mandate itself isn’t especially strong. While it requires that 50% of patients can access their data, doctors only have to prove that 5% actually did access their data. The penalty is 1-5% of Medicare and Medicaid revenue. The “Transmit” part “View, Download, and Transmit” seems to have slipped away completely.
With all of that said, it might still be enough to transform consumer health tech. The “View” part of the regulation has mostly been implemented through “Patient Portals,” where users can log-on and view much of their health records. The Portals themselves aren’t any good â€“ they bring back fond memories of the internet circa 1998. But as weak as they are, most doctors will now have just that, a way for patients to access their health data electronically. And while it seems like “Transmit” has disappeared altogether, “Download” requires that these portals contain a structured data file adhering to an established standard.
All of this makes today a big deal despite weaknesses in the regulation. There is finally a way for patients to control their health data without reams of paper and transcriptionists. And maybe most importantly, structured data files create an opportunity for 3rd party developers to build tools that transform this messy data into something meaningful for patients. There will be a lot of work to go from messy XMLs hidden in individual patient accounts to a reliable, normalized API feed developers would prefer. But as of today, there’s a place to get started.
Want help finding your records online? Sign up for PicnicHealth (for free) to let us know which doctors you see and we’ll get back to you with details on whether they are participating and how to access your information.
Photo by Got Credit