Releasing Health Information to Patients: My Observation in the Changing Attitudes of Healthcare Professionals

What an interesting year it’s been as oncology practices started releasing health information to their patients using the Navigating Cancer patient portal. I witnessed a significant shift within clinics as their initial apprehension grew into a sense of relief and achievement. This was apparent while working with individual clinics and across the board with all portals launched in 2012.

Considering delivering records to patients is new, it’s not unusual for staff to have anxiety about releasing health information.  Clinics tend to worry about the number of patient calls they’ll receive and how the staff will manage during their busy schedules.  Understanding the clinics’ anxiety, Navigating Cancer developed a manual process to release health information, providing staff with ultimate control. During the first conversations clinics insisted the manual release process would be the only way to feel comfortable delivering records to patients, and therefore we built our application to support this view.

Yet after a very short period of time, clinics requested we build a process allowing records to release automatically, requiring staff action only when withholding a record was needed. Our development team quickly went to work building the automated functionality and launched it within weeks of the first request.  Additionally they created the option to manually release a specific record type, while applying the automated release mode to all other records. Now with very little action required, clinics are providing patients with electronic access to their health records, and successfully meeting the Meaningful Use goal.

The option to automate the release process is currently offered with two settings: immediately when the record crosses over to the portal, or at the Meaningful Use deadline (3 business days).  Clinics can apply either of the automated modes to any or all of the record categories available on the portal: medications, allergies, primary diagnoses, secondary diagnoses, vitals or lab results.  With this flexibility, practices have chosen different variations to meet the needs of their clinic and patient population.

One aspect that doesn’t seem to vary is the appreciation patients relay when they begin to experience the benefits of using the portal. In a recent Navigating Cancer survey of 600 cancer patients, 87% said they valued having online access to their Clinical Visit Summaries. In this way patients have become more engaged in their health care and say they’re pleased with their clinic in providing a platform to do so. As for myself, the shift I observed this past year has been very inspiring! I look forward to a continued partnership with oncology practices as we all embrace the future growth of patient engagement in 2013.

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