Patients & Families

We want to inform, support and encourage patients and families to become more informed and involved as decision-makers in their health care. Patients and families are essential partners and advisors within the health care team, providing input and recommendations that serve to enhance our efforts to improve care practices, patient safety, and the quality of health care and health outcomes. The following information is provided to assist patients and families to become more informed and involved consumers.

What is Health Information Technology (HIT)?

The term "health information technology" (health IT) is a broad concept that encompasses an array of technologies to store, share, and analyze health information.

More and more, health care providers are using health IT to improve patient care. But health IT isn't just for health care providers. You can use health IT to better communicate with your doctor, learn and share information about your health, and take actions that will improve your quality of life. Health IT lets you be a key part of the team that keeps you healthy.

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What are the benefits of Health Information Technology to patients and families?

Over the past 20 years, our nation has undergone a major transformation due to information technology (IT). Today, we have at our fingertips access to a variety of information and services to help us manage our relationships with the organizations that are part of our lives: banks, utilities, Government offices — even entertainment companies.

Until now, relatively few Americans have had the opportunity to use this kind of technology to enhance some of the most important relationships: those related to your health. Relationships with your doctors, your pharmacy, your hospital, and other organizations that make up your circle of care are now about to benefit from the next transformation in information technology: health IT.

For patients and consumers, this transformation will enhance both relationships with providers and providers’ relationships with each other. This change will place you at the center of your care – in effect, helping to put the “I” in health IT.

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Other types of e-health tools – for consumers and communities to understand and improve health

There are other "e-Health tools" that you can use on your own, if you wish, that may be considered a part of the broader health IT world. These include:

Personal health tools.

These are tools that help you check your health, get feedback, and keep track of your progress to better manage your health. Examples include smartphone "apps" that can help you set and monitor fitness goals and cell phone text reminders to take your medicine on time.

Online communities.

Online communities can help people connect with one another to try to maximize good health (such as during pregnancy) or to respond to concerns about poor health.

Through online communities you can share information with -- and emotionally support -- others facing similar concerns about a particular disease or disability.

These e-health tools are designed to place you at the center of your care – helping to put the "I" in health IT.

Ensuring the security and privacy of your health information and personal health records

The privacy and security of patient health information is a top priority for patients and their families, health care providers and professionals, and the government. Federal laws require many of the key persons and organizations that handle health information to have policies and security safeguards in place to protect your health information — whether it is stored on paper or electronically.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules are the main Federal laws that protect your health information. The Privacy Rule gives you rights with respect to your health information. The Privacy Rule also sets limits on how your health information can be used and shared with others. The Security Rule sets rules for how your health information must be kept secure with administrative, technical, and physical safeguards.

You may have additional protections and health information rights under your State's laws. There are also Federal laws that protect specific types of health information, such as information related to Federally funded alcohol and substance abuse treatment.

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Discover how to be more involved and an equal partner in your own health care

The Consumer eHealth Program supports efforts by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) to fulfill one of its core strategies: the empowerment of individuals to improve their health and health care through Health IT. The collective aims of this eHealth program are best summarized by the objectives known within ONC as the "Three A's": Access, Action, and Attitudes.

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SFREC and its “community of state and federal partners” have contributed their knowledge, expertise and information to this website. We acknowledge their contributions and have included citations as needed.