Posted in Policy

ONC unveils online guide to help patients access their health records

Chris Nerney
Chris Nerney, Contributing Writer |
ONC unveils online guide to help patients access their health records

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has been making a lot of changes online in April, all designed to make information easier for site visitors and patients to access.

The federal health agency last Wednesday released the ONC Guide to Getting and Using your Health Records, an online resource for patients  and healthcare providers.  

Just two days before, ONC unveiled a redesign of its HealthIT.gov website that agency officials said is intended to work “on any device, from smartphones to tablets to desktop computers.”

The online guide for health records is part of a push by federal health officials to empower patients and improve patients’ access to their electronic health information – a central goal of the 21st Century Cures Act. The guide also supports the MyHealthEData initiative announced in March by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma.

“It’s important that patients and their caregivers have access to their own health information so they can make decisions about their care and treatments,” Don Rucker, M.D., national coordinator for health information technology, said in a statement. “This guide will help answer some of the questions that patients may have when asking for their health information.”

While federal law gives patients the right to view and obtain copies of their health records from providers and insurers, accessing this information can be challenging because patients typically have multiple care providers, each of which may have a different process for providing patient access to health records. Further, the accuracy of health records can vary from one provider to another.

ONC’s guide is divided into three parts:

  • How patients can obtain their health records
  • Finding – and fixing – mistakes in your health records
  • How to use, share, and manage your health records

Site redesign

The redesign of HealthIT.gov, launched by ONC in 2011, was in response to user complaints in recent years that the original site’s infrastructure and interface was falling behind in the mobile, multi-platform era.

“The redesigned website reflects feedback we received from our internal and external stakeholders,” says ONC communications director Zhan Caplan. “The new site allows our mobile users to easily access and view information. Content is now easier to access and resizes based on the device used to access the site.”

While the original HealthIT.gov website segmented content by the types of users accessing the site (providers, patients, policymakers), the new site “features topic-based navigation that will reduce the number of clicks it takes for users to easily find the content they need,” Caplan says.

ONC also added a “News & Updates” section on the home page of HealthIT.gov and an improved search function, Caplan says.