Patients are using their own health information.  The husband who uses his smartphone to download his wife’s health records after she’s in a car accident. The veteran who saves his own life by noticing a critical medication error in his Blue Button record. The adult daughter who uses her cell phone to share her mother’s updated Medicare health history with each of the different doctors her mother sees for her multiple chronic conditions.

These are just examples of situations across the country where patients and family caregivers are using mobile tools to help them manage their own health and health care, as well as that of their loved ones. According to a 2014 poll conducted by the Pew Research Institute, 64 percent of American adults now own a smartphone, and 62 percent of these adults have used their devices to look up information about a health condition in the past year. 

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Given the ubiquity of smartphones and their growing adoption among seniors, as well as their high rates of use among low-income populations, it is clear that these devices are transformational tools that can be used by Americans to manage their health and be engaged in their care whenever and wherever they may be. For at-risk populations, the ability to more actively engage with their own care can be truly revolutionary. 

Empowered with their mobile devices, Americans have the power to completely by-pass the lack of information sharing between health systems.  Despite a $30B investment by taxpayers, business barriers to data sharing - more so than a lack of system interoperability – continue to affect providers’ ability to communicate with one another. With mobile devices, patients can now take control of the data-sharing process and “bring their own” to every care interaction.

Patients are also now able to track and share information about their lifestyle (such as nutrition, physical activity, etc.), their experience with prescribed treatment, specific health condition monitoring (such as hypertension or diabetes), and in some instances, aggregate it with their health record data. Seeing the whole picture of a person’s health through this type of data aggregation, under the direct control of the individual, can greatly improve outcomes by delivering the right care at the right time, avoiding medical errors and redundant care and realizing the promise of value-based care as we move away from fee-for-service payment. 

Yet, despite the important role of consumer mobile tools in helping to transform health care, much of the public dialogue about health IT to date has centered on system-to-system health information exchange (HIE) and interoperability using 90s technology. This is an outdated worldview that ignores the unparalleled impact that an engaged and technology-empowered consumer can have in driving health care quality and reducing costs in the short-term.

In fact, many of the barriers experienced in system-to-system exchange (i.e., business barriers, privacy and security issues) are not present with "consumer- mediated" exchange. Patients have a legal right to access their own data so there is no need to worry about HIPAA privacy requirements when sending a patient his/her own record. 

Mobile tools – like Humetrix’s iBlueButton and several others – already exist to help patients access and share their records with their providers as they choose. These tools also help providers make better use of the costly taxpayer investment in certified EHRs by making it easy to transmit health records to their patients’ mobile applications of choice. Meaningful use standards ensure that these transmissions can be made in a standardized and secure way so that records can be read and assembled by their patients' mobile applications for them to share with their next provider.

Patient-supported exchange through mobile applications is a near-term solution that is immediately available to facilitate greater health information exchange. Truly value-based care cannot be achieved without greater rates of patient engagement, and tools are available now to help patients access and share their health data. Policymakers and providers alike should leverage these tools to the greatest extent possible to both advance interoperability and ensure patient safety. 

New technologies are making existing policies for both providers and patients easy to implement. This is not the time to relax these policies by only considering system-to-system means of health information exchange when the world has evolved to widely adopt user-friendly mobile technology.  With their own mobile devices, patients are unlocking information throughout the healthcare system and using it to improve their health.  Isn’t that a win for everyone?

Experton is the CEO of Humetrix.