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Yes, you do have a right to your health records

Lest anyone forget — including the American Hospital Association, which wants to take 30 days post-discharge to supply copies of medical records to patients — HIPAA explicitly gives patients the right to access their own records. This is not new. The HIPAA privacy rules have been in force since 2002. Yet, far too many patients have no idea of this right and far too many providers don’t inform patients of this right or do what they can to prevent access.

Fortunately, the HHS Office for Civil Rights, which enforces HIPAA privacy and security standards, is trying to change that with an outreach campaign, including this video.


Unfortunately, the video has been viewed just 556 times as of this writing. Equally unfortunately, the video directs viewers to visit But the real information you need is at I found that page using Google, not by trying to navigate the menu, which is not very intuitive, even for someone who knows the healthcare industry. I can’t imagine the average consumer finding that page without help or plain old dumb luck.

Various HHS agencies are trying hard to disseminate messages to the public. I think of AHRQ’s Questions are the Answer campaign. I’ve seen poster-size ads around Chicago telling people to visit for a list of questions they should be asking their healthcare providers, but the better link, not mentioned in the ads, is

For that matter — and I mentioned this to one of the AHRQ higher-ups at the HIMSS conference a few months ago — how many people really know what the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is? Wouldn’t it be better to have a more memorable URL? The Obama administration is good at setting up URLs for programs it wants to promote for political reasons — think and even the consumer-friendly — but the less-politicized divisions such as AHRQ (remember, Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy is a career professional who has run AHRQ for two presidents since 2003) and OCR haven’t done so. They need to come up with easy-to-remember URLs that the general public can remember. Bureaucrat-speak just isn’t getting the job done.

Meantime, physicians need to become more patient-friendly, too. I invite you to check out this Salon article from a few weeks ago entitled, “Listen up, doctors: Here’s how to talk to your patients.” Please share with family, friends and, yes, your doctors. Share the OCR video, too. If OCR can’t make the information easy to find, I will.


June 12, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

‘Care About Your Care’ videos

As promised last week, I have found the videos from last week’s Care About Your Care consumer-outreach program launch. Only one is embeddable, this 88-second PSA that tells the public that there is such thing as bad care and that it’s important to ask questions:

If you want to see the kickoff webcast featuring TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President and CEO Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey and AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy, you have to go to the main Care About Your Care site and click on the Dr. Oz box. Wouldn’t you know, it starts with the above PSA.

Last week, I questioned how much impact this program could have in a month. I see that there is no mention of it on the home page for Oz’s TV show. That would be a good place to add a link in a prominent location, no?


September 20, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Public urged to ‘Care About Your Care’

Hmm, maybe I was on to something?

Last week, I posted two items about the federal government encouraging individuals to take a more active role in their own care, first the fact that I noticed AHRQ had brought back an older campaign that I thought really needed an update, and then about ONC introducing a consumer Web site about health IT.

Today, we learn that ONC and AHRQ have teamed with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and many other healthcare, consumer and business groups in a new campaign called Care About Your Care. It’s a month-long project to raise awareness about the issue of quality of care and teach consumers how they can search for and receive better healthcare.

There was a kickoff event this morning, featuring a live webcast hosted by Dr. Mehmet Oz. (Whoever built the site posted that it started ran from “11:30 – 1 p.m. EST.” It’s still daylight time, and will be until November. You also forgot the “a.m.,” since it started before noon. Hire an editor next time.) The video isn’t archived yet, so I don’t know exactly what was said. I’ll try to link to it or embed it later. Apparently, there were some local events surrounding the launch, too, as the Puget Sound Health Alliance hosted a live event in Seattle early this morning PDT (yes, daylight time) moderated by a local TV news anchor and featuring a cancer survivor among the speakers. A similar gathering took place in Bangor, Maine.

I’m liking what I see on the site, especially a rotating list of facts about the sad state of healthcare in the U.S. that people can click on to tweet. A few examples: “30% of health care spending is for services that may not improve people’s #health”; “7% of Americans have used information about quality of care to make a decision about their care. #health”; and “91,000 Americans die annually from bad care for conditions like high blood pressure, #diabetes and heart disease. #health.”

What I’m not so sure about it how much difference this campaign can make in just a month. Old, bad ideas are too deeply ingrained.

UPDATE, 6:05 pm CDT: Oz and RWJF President/CEO Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey co-authored a piece explaining Care About Your Care in the Huffington Post today, pretty much guaranteeing that millions of conservative-minded folks will tune out, or, worse, suspect a liberal conspiracy to meddle in healthcare. I sincerely hope nobody still believes the lie that U.S. has “the best healthcare in the world.” By the way, I just Googled “us best healthcare in the world.” The first page of results listed a couple of media sources that tend to lean left, namely the New York Times and CBS News, plus a story from The Guardian (London) that reported on Jon Stewart exposing a bit of Glenn Beck hypocrisy. There also was an item from the Daily Progress. It’s not a hyperpartisan liberal blog, as the name might suggest, but rather a long-established newspaper in Charlottesville, Va. I only knew that because I took the time to check it out.

I truly hope people will view this campaign for what it really is, an effort to engage patients in their own care and open some eyes about the quality problem, not an insidious plot. Unfortunately, in a society that values sound bites over substance, this may be a losing battle.

By the way, that story from the Charlottesville paper was a 2010 letter from a reader contending that the U.S. really does have the best healthcare in the world, making a flimsy argument based mostly on waiting times for services, the prevalence of MRIs—as if volume somehow equaled quality—and a survey that laughably asked people whether they were in “excellent health.” This letter suggested that all that need fixing are cost and access.

Sorry, I don’t care what your political views are, there’s one problem that underlies all of the others. It’s quality, stupid.

September 12, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

More consumer outreach, this time from ONC

Just days after I remarked how the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality had brought back its advertising campaign aimed at educating the general public about patient safety, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has launched its own form of consumer outreach: According to ONC:

Health is personal. It’s personal for the parent who has a child with asthma.It’s personal for the patient with a new cancer diagnosis. And it’s personal for the doctor who is responsible for caring for them.

At its core, is about patients, and it’s about helping them get the information they need, connecting them to resources that empower them to make changes, and ultimately, improving the nation’s health—one person at a time.

Whether you are a parent who is wondering how an electronic health record (EHR) will affect her family’s privacy or a provider who is overwhelmed by the idea of transitioning to EHRs, has the resources to help answer your questions.

The site, aimed at consumers and healthcare providers with questions about the EHR incentive program, apparently does not replace the one for “insiders,”, much like the consumer-facing is distinct from the main CMS site. In fact, the link to on the ONC home page calls the new site “a website to preview our upcoming campaign: Putting the I in Health IT.”

Frankly, it’s about time. The public is utterly in the dark about this whole thing.

September 8, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

AHRQ consumer campaign needs something

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has brought back its “Questions are the Answer” commercials that first surfaced in 2007 and related advertising outreach intended to help consumers take more control over their care. Over the weekend, I saw a poster-sized billboard on a Chicago sidewalk that I wish I had taken a picture of. I’ve also seen a commercial or two on TV recently.

While it’s a good idea to reach out to consumers and provide them with helpful information such as a list of 10 questions to ask when making care decisions, something seems to be missing. I’m thinking AHRQ needs a more memorable, easier-to-remember URL than the one listed on the ads: I’d be surprised if anyone outside healthcare or government has even heard of AHRQ or would remember that Web address.

Marketing people, it’s time to get to work.


September 6, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Clancy likely to stay at AHRQ

I’ve just learned that staff at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is operating under the assumption that President Obama will choose to retain Dr. Carolyn Clancy as agency director. As a non-political federal employee, Clancy stayed on past Inauguration day, unlike the heads of many other HHS agencies. Although the new president has a right to bring in his own people, the word I’m hearing is that Obama will not change leadership at AHRQ.

Clancy struck me as one of the first people within the federal government to understand the link between IT and quality, and I think it would be foolish to replace her now.

Incidentally, AHRQ stands to be in line for a pretty big expansion. The entire agency’s current budget estimate for fiscal year 2009 is $327.7 million, down from $334.6 million in 2008. But the economic stimulus legislation that the House passed last night gives $1.1 billion to AHRQ, at least according to the version of the bill introduced Monday. The AHRQ language starts on page 134. (As of this writing, the final text of the bill that passed was not online.)

The Senate companion bill, which is pending, calls for the same $1.1 billion appropriation (page 129).

January 29, 2009 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

New? Really?

Friday’s AHIP Solutions SmartBrief had this item:

New AHRQ campaign focuses on patient empowerment
The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is rolling out a new campaign called “Questions Are the Answer,” designed to help patients be more involved in their care to avoid preventable harm. The program offers a Web site that includes video, checklists and advice for patients and providers on asking and answering questions. The Boston Globe (6/26)

The Boston Globe story from Thursday didn’t make mention of this being a new campaign; only the Spanish component is new. And that’s accurate. Readers of this blog would know that “Questions Are the Answer” is not new. I wrote about it on April 23, 2007.

On another subject, last week’s Health Wonk Review was one of the best I’ve seen to date—and not just because health IT got top billing. Kudos to Jaan Sidorov of the Disease Management Care Blog for his excellent and detailed commentary.

The link to the “Ultimate Guide to Google Health” was particularly useful. It’s nice to have time to put together such a comprehensive list. Or so I’m told.

June 30, 2008 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Going multimedia

Watch the hit counter at the bottom of the right-hand column. Watch it carefully as it approaches and hopefully passes 20,000 since I began tracking traffic in September 2004. Thank you for your continued readership.

And now for a reality check. The HIStalk blog had 186,445 hits in March alone. While I count visits more than hits (a.k.a. total page views) still I can only aspire to provide a fraction of the entertainment value as Mr. HIStalk—or for that matter, a fraction of the entertainment value of those fun-loving hipsters at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, who have gone all YouTube on us.

Yes, AHRQ and the Ad Council have teamed up to produce the following public-service announcement aimed at encouraging patients to seek information from their healthcare providers as part of a campaign called “Questions are the Answer.”

This is the 30-second version. A 60-second spot is at

AHRQ also is working on a pilot with PBS related to patient safety. The first episode will focus on health IT, according to Jon White, M.D., health IT portfolio manager of AHRQ’s Center for Primary Care, Prevention, and Clinical Partnerships. I’ll try to track down some more details.

Meanwhile, on the publishing front, Atul Gawande, M.D., seems to be doing something useful with his $500,000 “genius grant.” The follow-up to his 2002 best-seller “Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science,” hits bookstores April 10. Read the introduction to “Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance” here.

And finally—stealing a phrase from FierceHealthIT since editor Anne Zieger asked me to link to them—said publication has come out with its list of 10 Top Health IT Innovators for 2007. Anne would like readers to chime in on the selections.

Of course, lots of people have already chimed in on No. 2, namely Practice Fusion, and the CEO of No. 5 athenahealth already has opined in the form of a podcast on this very blog.

Viva la shameless self-promotion!

April 3, 2007 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.