Harnessing Electronic Health Records To Educate Patients

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The cacophony of voices debating the value of electronic health records (EHRs) has a tendency to drown out the most important stakeholders— patients.

A free tool launched in June 2011 by the National Institutes of Health puts patients first by integrating EHRs with educational resources on a range of health topics.

MedlinePlus Connect allows health organizations and health IT vendors to link patient portals and EHRs to MedlinePlus.gov, the National Library of Medicine’s consumer health database. Patients who use a portal or EHR that is configured with MedlinePlus Connect can access reliable, accurate information unique to their health status.

The system generates patient-specific results by recognizing standard medical code sets that describe diagnoses, medications, and lab results.

For example, entering the National Drug Code number for paroxetine links the patient to an FAQ page for the antidepressant, where he or she can learn more about what side effects to expect, how to store the medication, or what to do if a dose is missed.

In addition to helping patients stay informed about their health, MedlinePlus Connect helps providers meet one of the government’s 10 “meaningful use” criteria, which determine eligibility for EHR incentive payments. This was a primary goal of the service, which received the HHSinnovates award from Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

“One of our core principles is that meaningful use of EHRs should help patients get access to information that is meaningful and useful to them,” said Farzad Mostashari, MD, national coordinator for health information technology. “This meaningful use objective helps patients obtain information tailored to their health situation, and this free service helps providers do this efficiently.”