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Stage 2: Engaging Patients in Their Health Care

By Robert Tagalicod, Director, Office of E-Health Standards and Services

Over the past few years, there has been a new trend in the discussion about eHealth and improving our health care system – a trend to focus on patient engagement.  Getting patients more engaged in their health care is a proven method to improve outcomes and care coordination, and for that reason it is one of the six National Quality Strategy priorities, and a primary goal for CMS.

That is why we made patient engagement an important focus of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs Stage 2 of meaningful use. We believe that eligible professionals, eligible hospitals, and critical access hospitals are in the best position to encourage patients to use health IT to better understand and participate in their own health care.

Patient Engagement in Stage 2
The EHR Incentive Programs help make health care more patient-centered by encouraging eligible providers to give patients access to their health information and provide them with tools to electronically communicate with their clinical care health providers.

Already many meaningful use requirements have directly affected patients. Whether they have received electronic access to their health information, or were sent reminders about preventive/follow-up care, millions of patients have experienced the positive results of the meaningful use of health information technology.

As we prepare for the beginning of Stage 2, let’s take a closer look at how the next stage of meaningful use further encourages patient engagement.

New Stage 2 measures for several objectives will require patients to use health information technology in order for their providers to achieve meaningful use.

Patient engagement Stage 2 objectives include:

• Providing patients the ability to view online, download and transmit their health information

o More than 5 percent of patients seen by the eligible professional or admitted to an inpatient or emergency department of an eligible hospital or critical access hospital view, download, or transmit to a third party their health information.

• Using secure electronic messaging to communicate with patients on relevant health information

o More than 5 percent of unique patients seen by the eligible professional send a secure message using the electronic messaging function of certified EHR technology

What Stage 2 Engagement Means for Patients
CMS and ONC want to make sure we facilitate electronic data access and email in a way that protects the privacy, confidentiality, and security of that information. Stage 2 requires two-directional, secure email messaging with patients – so a provider and patient can connect and exchange information in a secure and convenient format that works with their schedule.  

In addition, patient “portals” – online options for patients to view or download or send their health information to another provider – give patients quick and easy access to important information like lab test results, a list of current medications, and hospital discharge instructions.

These changes set the foundation for patients to better understand their health status and the care they are provided, which can lead to better outcomes.