How eHealth is Reshaping the Future of Healthcare in Massachusetts

When it comes to eHealth, Massachusetts is making some of the most progress. The state’s drive to expand eHealth activities revolves around four main goals:

  • Get all patients’ records digitalized within an inter-operable system, so providers can access and exchange the important health information they need.

  • Provide better care for better health at lower costs.

  • Encourage consumers to engage with eHealth tools.

  • Foster the business environment to promote an “eHealth cluster” of 400 or more companies that generate $15 billion in revenue annually by 2020.

Healthcare IT is Booming in Massachusetts

Health IT business is booming in the state. This year 16 Massachusetts companies made the Healthcare Informatics 100, a list that ranks vendors by the amount of revenue they generate from healthcare IT products and services. California came in second with 10 state-based vendors—and some states didn’t even make the list.

Massachusetts’ biggest focus, however, has been getting providers on-board with eHealth initiatives. By 2017, all providers will be required to be part of the Massachusetts Health Information Highway, or Mass HIway. The Mass HIway lets providers send health data directly to healthcare professionals who need to treat patients, do lab work, or hand out prescriptions. Sending information via the Mass HIway is more secure than faxing or mailing it. Using the system also lowers risks of duplicate tests or medical errors, while making it easier to coordinate a patient’s care.

Everything’s moving in the right direction for full Mass HIway participation and 100% EHR interoperability. Most primary care providers and specialists have already made the switch to electronic health records, or EHR. Several providers also have web portals, where consumers can access lab results, schedule appointments, and reach out to their providers through online messaging.

The progress is very exciting. But what makes Massachusetts’ push toward eHealth so fantastic is the positive feedback from providers and patients alike. In a recent research study, the Massachusetts eHealth Institute (MeHI) surveyed practice managers, providers, and consumers to get their thoughts on health IT. The feedback showed a favorable response about the benefits of health technology—and a positive outlook for the future.

Take the transition to EHR, for instance. Back in 2010, the Affordable Care Act set up several initiatives to have providers switch over to EHR over a gradual time frame. Policymakers anticipated several advantages of making the switch. Digitalizing medical records saves storage space and administrative costs for folders and labor spent tracking down patient charts. It also limits medical errors. Having a patient’s information in a single, secure place lets providers easily access the info they need to treat a patient, without wasting time searching for paper files.

Sometimes there’s a wide gulf between theory and practice, but providers in Massachusetts are overwhelmingly positive about the transition to EHR. When surveyed by MeHI, providers talked about how using EHRs has improved the quality of care, reduced errors, and enabled better decision-making in their practices.

“Accessing patient info from 3 different offices, or from home on call, has dramatically improved care,” one specialist physician said, describing the advantages of EHRs.

The enhanced communication capabilities also received a lot of praise. More than 90% of physicians said EHRs facilitate communication of patient information for their care teams. Better communication translates to better coordination of care and more informed decision-making.

Consumers, or patients, also see EHR as a step to improving the quality of care they receive. They’re excited about the Mass HIway, too. Most have heard of it, and they see electronic transmittal of health information as an opportunity to maintain higher care standards.

Patients are Loving Personal Health Records (PHR)

Health IT also offers ways for patients to track their wellness and feel more in control of their health. Some patients in Massachusetts use personal health records (PHR) to track their wellness, and several others are interested in joining that trend. A personal health record is similar to an EHR, but all the information in it is put together and maintained by the patient. Patients said personal health records help them gain a better understanding of their health, become more involved, and feel more connected to their doctor. Many said using a personal health record spurred them into action to improve their health—and led them to ask questions they might not have asked otherwise.

Patients who aren’t using a PHR yet talked about the perks that make them want to start using PHRs or provider web portals. They pointed out how useful these tools would be for seeing doctors’ instructions online, getting reminders for tests or lab results, renewing prescriptions, scheduling appointments, and reaching out to their doctors with questions.

Massachusetts is game for (Health) IT

While eHealth integration across Massachusetts isn’t complete, the MeHI report emphasizes how much progress providers have made so far with EHR adoption and health information integration—and discusses concrete ways to support providers who haven’t made the switch. The overall positive response to the initiatives makes it clear that providers and patients are both excited to see what opportunities health IT opens up for them moving forward.