Shining a New Light on Patient Engagement

Switch the lens and look at the patient in a new light. That was the key message delivered by Kim Murphy-Abdouch, RHIA, MPH, FACHE, clinical assistant professor at Texas State University, in her Monday presentation “Patient Access to Personal Health Information: Regulation vs. Reality.”

Murphy-Abdouch presented the preliminary results of a survey on patient access to health information, administered through a partnership between Texas State University and the AHIMA Foundation to selected AHIMA members.

The main objectives of the research are to create awareness of contemporary practices in the provision of patient access to health information, to differentiate between patient and third party information requests, and to provide a framework for HIM leaders to evaluate how their organizations approach patient access.

“Patients are becoming much more aware of their own healthcare,” Murphy-Abdouch said. The increased adoption of health IT, such as that outlined in the “meaningful use” EHR Incentive Program, has made patient access to health information more feasible than ever before. Patient engagement has even been referred to as the “blockbuster drug of the 21st century,” Murphy-Abdouch noted—a sentiment with which she agrees.

As healthcare providers continue to adopt newer technology, patient information should be readily available to patients. But cost frequently stands as a barrier to that access, Murphy-Abdouch said.

Under the provisions of HIPAA, patients have the right to see and obtain copies of their medical records. The law allows providers to charge a reasonable cost-based fee for providing these copies, but Murphy-Abdouch’s research has found that organizations appear to lack a standard approach and often place excess cost burden on patients.

Part of the problem may be that providers have failed to view addressing requests for patient access as an entirely different set of processes and policies than those that govern information requests from third parties such as life insurance companies, long-term care insurance companies, or attorneys. The difference, Murphy-Abdouch said, is that these third parties are using the information as part of their business to make a profit.

The goal behind encouraging patient access to health information that Murphy-Abdouch outlined emphasized the importance of the availability of health information in improving care outcomes. Organizations should look to develop processes and policies that “get actionable patient information out in real time for patients to make healthcare decisions,” Murphy-Abdouch said.

The ability to obtain that information allows patients to make better choices and take greater responsibility for managing their health.

Health information professionals are in the position to undertake the mission of educating patients on what their rights are and the steps they can take to access their health information, according to Murphy-Abdouch.

Murphy-Abdouch encouraged attendees to look at ways to increase access for patients while decreasing the burden of that access, such as ramping up personal health record education efforts and leveraging health IT offerings.


Follow the news and get insights from AHIMA’s 85th annual Convention and Exhibit being held October 26-30 in Atlanta, GA. For a complete list of event coverage on the Journal of AHIMA website, click here.


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