What I’ve Learned as an Intern in Health IT

Where to begin. I could probably write a book about everything I’ve learned during my internship in health IT, if I could effectively put it all into words that is. I’ve been exposed to HITECH, ACOs, Meaningful Use, patient engagement, health IT tools, and so much more in a way that I never have before. I think one problem among the non-health IT crowd, and I know I was this way too, is a lack of understanding about health reform, engagement, technology, and law.

After spending a considerable amount of time researching patient engagement and the various technologies to improve healthcare, I discovered just how important health IT is to expanding patient access to information and increasing engagement. It’s one thing to know about the various health technologies, but it’s quite another to actually know how to use them properly.

Before I began my internship, I was aware of patient portals, EHRs and EMRs (somewhat), and mobile health apps. But these were just things I thought I could use on my own whenever I wanted. The idea of being an engaged patient never crossed my mind. I just thought that as long as I did what I needed to stay healthy, then I didn’t have to go to the doctor or communicate with her.

Research has shown I was wrong.

I can’t just eat right, exercise, and use health technologies by myself. If I do end up becoming sick enough that I need to see my doctor, I would have to relay everything to her that I had been doing on my own, such as using mobile apps for fitness monitoring or searching for “at-home remedies” on health websites. And what if I had been doing it wrong? Why waste valuable doctor-patient time? Doesn’t it seem easier to connect with my doctor before the appointment? Yes, and information technology is making that possible.

So what has health IT come to mean to me?

It’s not just engaging in my own health, either alone or with my doctor. It’s not just about using technology to improve my health. It’s not just about having access to my medical information and records. Health IT is about combining all of these to create a more complete physician-patient relationship. And the physician-patient relationship is the key to health IT, in my opinion. It seems like such a simple concept, but I was never really aware of its significance.

Health IT only goes so far if I’m using it on my own, or if my doctor is viewing my records digitally. Unless my physician encourages me to use technology to improve my health, as well as to discuss it with her, IT wouldn’t be as successful for me as it could be. There must be communication between the patient and physician. Physicians have to be willing to educate their patients on health IT and its uses while patients have to be willing to ask questions and challenge their doctors.

I’ve learned the nature of healthcare is changing to be more consumer-driven; patients are thirsty for information to improve the quality of care and to discuss it with their physicians. Health IT is vital to improving health because it opens the doors of communication between patients and physicians. I never understood how IT changed this communication or how important it was until now. My previous beliefs on healthcare were contradictory, unbeknownst to me, to the way I live the rest of my life – always moving, always connected (I get anxiety if I don’t have my cell phone), always working – and yet, I was disrupting everything by being an un-engaged patient. I can’t help but wonder if other members of Generation Y are doing the same thing.

Mallory Savoie

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