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Patients face huge challenge in managing health information

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling on the health-reform law today.

However the court rules, health-care professionals understand that transformation of health care in this country will likely focus on achieving “The Triple Aim” moving forward: improving the patient experience of care, improving outcomes of care and reducing the per capita expense of care.

While this concept may appear to be fairly straightforward, I’m coming to understand this proposition may be nearly as complex as the human body itself. Perhaps the most-intriguing part of the “Triple Aim” equation is the task of improving health outcomes, as numerous measures of outcome exist across the industry. Behavioral health providers have their measures and primary care providers have theirs. Our specialists have their own sets, as well

In looking at the wealth of available measures, on the surface there seems to be an opportunity to reduce and standardize measurements down to only a few in order to compare health outcomes across care settings and communities throughout the industry. However, one problem with this logic is that it may lead to a reduction of the necessary complexity of focus, which could then result in diminished ability to understand our overall health.

If we attempt to reduce our focus to any one measurement (or group of measurements), we will likely miss the other important parts of the whole picture. On the other hand, how do we patients better relate to the broad constellation of complex measures available to us; how do we close the gap of understanding between us and our personal health data? Perhaps the more integrated health care becomes the better educated more patients will become about their overall health – or maybe not. I actually think we’re at a crossroads in our understanding and valuing the informational resources available to us as patients.

I can imagine a day when folks might talk about their health around the dinner table in greater detail than “I feel fine” or “I’m all good” – in all honesty, I know that would be a stretch – for my evening meal, especially. Although bridging the understanding gap between patient and data becomes less problematic as we patients become more educated, this does not account for any gaps of internal motivation for us to take greater ownership of our health data.

While the rise of websites such as I-Triage and WebMD seem to indicate we’re placing greater value in seeing the entire picture of our health – not only for treatment options but for prevention measures, as well – I’m not sure most of us want that level of detail or are equipped to be a partner in our care. Maybe we just want the simple assurance that we have a “clean bill of health” or that we’re doing just fine.

In conclusion, it seems that no matter the outcome of the high court decision, the jury will remain out regarding patient’s interest in developing greater understanding of our overall health. What do you think?

Mark White is the director of quality for Axis Health System. Reach him at mwhite@axishealthsystem.org or 335-2217.