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Power to the Patient: Why National Health IT Week Matters

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In today's modern-day society, technology has become deeply woven into the fabric of our daily lives. At home, at work and while traveling we rely on our smartphones, tablets and computers for news, information, conversation and entertainment. But information technology (IT) is not yet close to reaching its potential in the health care sector.

That's why National Health IT Week (September 16-20) is so important to patients, physicians and hospitals across the country. Now in its eighth year, National Health IT Week is a collaborative forum of providers, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, research foundations and consumer protection groups coming together to address some of the pressing issues in the industry that technology can help solve.

In focusing the nation's attention on technology, National Health IT Week highlights how "smart" mobile applications, predictive analytic tools, patient-engagement systems and other forms of technology will transform the delivery of care in the near future.

As a practicing physician who is deeply involved in the National Health IT conversation, I believe that technology is the foundation for improving the quality of health care delivery, increasing patient safety, decreasing medical errors and strengthening the interaction between patients and health care providers. That's also the message of National Health IT Week, whose theme is appropriately "One Voice, One Vision: Transforming Health and Care."

Today, technology is transforming our nation's health care system in many exciting ways, including:
• New strategies for physicians and other providers to reach out and engage patients more effectively.
• Mobile applications that can significantly improve patient health and wellness.
• Predictive analytics that tap the potential of "big data" to gather clinical information, analyze its significance and drive better patient outcomes.
• Large-scale systems to help hospitals and health systems streamline their clinical and business operations.
• Smoother integration and sharing of electronic medical records (EMR's) and other patient health information confidentially and securely in accountable care organizations (ACO's) and other delivery settings.

As the nation moves forward with implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, technology will continue to play a key role in health care reform -- not just for better care but for cost control and greater efficiency as well. Without continued advancements in health IT, providers will find it extremely challenging to meet their dual goals of quality clinical care and cost containment.

At the same time, we must recognize that health IT faces significant challenges that must be addressed, including data privacy and security issues, as well as the interoperability question -- how data generated by different applications on different platforms in different formats can be seamlessly shared among providers, patients, pharmacies, laboratories and other players.

But ultimately, health IT will only reach its potential when it, too, becomes integrated into the daily lives of patients and families. Checking blood pressure or glucose levels in the morning and transmitting that data directly to a doctor or nurse should be just as easy as checking a "status update" on a social media network. Videoconferencing with a doctor on a virtual "home visit" should be just as easy as skyping or "face timing" with friends. And getting relevant text alerts about medication therapies or eligibility for clinical trials should be just as easy as getting a text from friends and family members.

By bringing together a wide range of viewpoints, National Health IT Week will advance the national discussion on these topics as we build a stronger and more robust health care system for everyone.

Geeta Nayyar, M.D., M.B.A., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Department of Rheumatology at George Washington University. She is also Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO) for PatientPoint, whose leading-edge patient engagement and care coordination solutions bring an integrated perspective to physicians, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and accountable care organizations facing the challenges of the nation's changing health care system.

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