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Designed largely to accelerate medical product development and get new medications and treatments through the development process faster, the 21st Century Cures Act is a significant piece of legislation that Congress passed in 2016.
Some of its provisions are also meant to empower patients with more information about their own health. The ONC Cures Act Final Rule in particular — which will go into effect in April of this year — says that providers must make patients’ electronic health records (EHRs) available to them.
This means that data is unequivocally going to be in the hands of patients. It means better care for patients, but it also means that a whole new set of services and innovations will be possible.
Here are 4 things you should know about how this final rule in the 21st Century Cures Act can impact your personal healthcare and should drive your innovation planning:
1. Patients will automatically get digital access to their electronic medical records at no cost.
73% of healthcare consumers indicated they wanted all of their healthcare data to be accessible through a website or mobile device – and yet, 1 in 3 patients still cannot easily access all of their medical records, according to a study of over 1,100 healthcare consumers my company Ambra Health conducted. That’s about to change.
Want to see those CT scans that you just had done last week? Curious about the results of that blood test your primary care doctor recently ordered? Want to read the actual notes that the doctors took when ordering these tests and examining the results?
Many people have avoided seeking out these things in the past because they didn’t want to deal with the trouble of hunting down their doctor or make an unnecessary visit back to the radiology department to pick up a CD with their imaging scans (and who even has a CD-ROM drive to view these anymore, anyway?).
But now, it is the provider’s responsibility to make this information available to people digitally. Many of them have already begun offering patient portals that do just this, but some have only provided a limited amount of the health information or used portals primarily for appointment scheduling, bill paying, and prescription refills. The new rule will ensure that the entire electronic health record is easily accessible, including diagnostic imaging.
2. Healthcare will finally enter the 21st century by enabling patients to get their medical data through health apps.
This ruling on the Cures Act spells opportunity for entrepreneurial app developers, new and old alike. Existing patient portals require the patient to log in to a website to access their health information. But the Cures Act has specifically mandated that the information also be accessible through third-party health applications. This means you can have your provider transmit information in your electronic record to a digital health app that uses an open API.
Innovative apps are popping up every day that fulfill different healthcare-related needs, from allowing you to conduct virtual visits with doctors to help you track and manage your personal health goals. The ability to instruct your provider to transmit your medical data to these apps can make them easier and more popular to use. Not only that, but existing apps should see more uptake with this added functionality. Data-related experience in science, engineering and analysis, graphic design, and other skills will grow in demand. Timing is good for those entrepreneurs waiting for a prime moment to delve into the $3.8 trillion healthcare industry.
3. Patients have the right to have their personal health information sent to another party if they submit a signed request.
There are many instances where you might want to share your health information with a third party, whether it’s with a family member who is assisting you in managing your medical treatment or with another provider who is part of your care team. Fortunately, the Cures Act also enables you to do this by simply submitting a signed request, which most typically will be possible to do online through the patient portal.
With barriers to sharing reduced, innovators can make a real impact on digital and virtual care.
4. Just because your health information is available doesn’t mean it’s easy to interpret. Patients will still need to consult with their doctors in many cases.
Ease of access isn’t everything. Certainly, this provision in the Cures Act is a huge step forward in patient empowerment, considering the long history of the medical establishment, often making it difficult for patients to obtain their own health information. The Cures Act has also ensured that most healthcare providers’ notes will also be included, which could offer some assistance in interpreting your health data.
Of course, doctor notes will not always be able to tell you what you want to know. A Google search or two might help you better understand some of your lab results, but simply having instant access to the information is not a substitute for the knowledge and clarity that an experienced healthcare professional can supply.
This may be the greatest innovation of all. If you had to pick one thing that is plaguing the healthcare industry today, it is burnout. Caregivers spend too much time buried in bureaucracy and not enough time with patients. Once data starts to flow freely, you make it possible to streamline it and make it reveal its secrets. Once this happens, we empower caregivers in a way we have always hoped but never quite dared!