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Dr. Colin A. Banas Discusses Meaningful Use, Patient Engagement and Portals

8 Oct 2014 by Insight Editor

Meaningful Use has meant big changes and even bigger challenges for many healthcare providers. But, for those organizations committed to health technology, there’s no going back.

“Meaningful Use is a bit of a double-edged sword,” says Dr. Colin A. Banas, M.D., the Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO) for the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Medical Center. As one of 15 new Health IT fellows selected by the Office of the Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) this year, Banas is in a rare position to help influence U.S. healthcare policy moving forward.

“Meaningful Use is a good framework to get this nation on the road to digital, digitization and interoperability,” Banas says, but acknowledges there have been some hiccups engineered into the program. Although he notes that some of the standards were probably set based on security concerns, he cites the expectations about how providers exchange data back and forth as a way Meaningful Use (MU) has handcuffed interoperability. “Just because you have certain technologies and the will to exchange doesn’t mean it can always be done,” he says.

On the bright side, Banas says the most recent stage of MU addresses the importance of patient engagement and data portability. “One of the things that’s really exciting from a patient perspective is the increased transparency that comes from patients having portals,” he says. VCU’s portal, which has been active since 2012, gives nearly 30,000 patients access to key data, including information about medications, allergies, immunizations and any health issues patients may have. Patients can even send notes to their provider and refill prescriptions from their smartphone.

Banas says VCU is currently in the process of adding patients’ radiology results, anatomic pathology notes and certain lab results to its portal as well. He notes that some “really progressive” organizations have already gone so far as to add provider notes to their patient portals in real time. He believes patients who have access to their health information through a portal are more likely to adhere to their care plan. “Once they’ve experienced that level of transparency, they are more likely to demand it as a prerequisite for the next person that’s going to provide their care, meaning it might become a market differentiator in the years ahead,” he says.

Another trend Banas sees generating a lot of interest this year is in the area of patient provided data. Patients can potentially use devices such as FitBits or remote scales to instantly upload personal health data to their own portal. So far, says Banas, “EMRs and the health systems haven’t quite figured out how to reconcile patient-provided data with the real McCoy.” Once providers work the kinks out, though, Banas believes patient-provided data will be another great tool to engage patients and to help keep them motivated about their own health. “That’s the sort of integration that we’re looking forward to,” he says. “Quite honestly, it’s not that far off — maybe in the next one to two years.”

As for Meaningful Use, Banas is optimistic. In his 12 years at VCU, Banas has overseen his institution’s own transformation from paper-based systems to full digital integration. “I believe in this stuff, that’s why I do it for a living,” he says. “While some providers may complain and cite that it’s taking them longer, or that they’re being asked to do things that they’ve never had to do before, I don’t think anyone in this institution would go back. I think there’s something to be said there.”

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