Patients & Families:

Patients and Families

Information Technology in health care
is the next consumer revolution

Learn how health IT can lead to safer, better,

and more efficient health care

What is health IT? 

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.

Although it will take years for health care to realize all these improvements and fully address any pitfalls, the first changes in this transformation are already underway. At the same time, numerous technology tools are becoming available to improve health for you, your family, and your community.

Most consumers will first encounter the benefits of health IT through an electronic health record, or EHR, at their doctor’s office or at a hospital.


Benefits of health IT for you and your family

On a basic level, an EHR provides a digitized version of the “paper chart” you often see doctors, nurses, and others using. But when an EHR is connected to all of your health care providers (and often, to you as a patient), it can offer so much more:

  • EHRs reduce your paperwork. The clipboard and new patient questionnaire may remain a feature of your doctor’s office for some time to come. But as more information gets added to your EHR, your doctor and hospital will have more of that data available as soon as you arrive. This means fewer and shorter forms for you to complete, reducing the health care “hassle factor.”

  • EHRs get your information accurately into the hands of people who need it. Even if you have relatively simple health care needs, coordinating information among care providers can be a daunting task, and one that can lead to medical mistakes if done incorrectly. When all of your providers can share your health information via EHRs, each of them has access to more accurate and up-to-date information about your care. That enables your providers to make the best possible decisions, particularly in a crisis.

  • EHRs help your doctors coordinate your care and protect your safety. Suppose you see three specialists in addition to your primary care physician. Each of them may prescribe different drugs, and sometimes, these drugs may interact in harmful ways. EHRs can warn your care providers if they try to prescribe a drug that could cause that kind of interaction. An EHR may also alert one of your doctors if another doctor has already prescribed a drug that did not work out for you, saving you from the risks and costs of taking ineffective medication.

  • EHRs reduce unnecessary tests and procedures. Have you ever had to repeat medical tests ordered by one doctor because the results weren’t readily available to another doctor? Those tests may have been uncomfortable and inconvenient or have posed some risk, and they also cost money. Repeating tests—whether a $20 blood test or a $2,000 MRI--results in higher costs to you in the form of bigger bills and increased insurance premiums. With EHRs, all of your care providers can have access to all your test results and records at once, reducing the potential for unnecessary repeat tests.

  • EHRs give you direct access to your health records. In the United States, you already have a Federally guaranteed right to see your health records, identify wrong and missing information, and make additions or corrections as needed. Some health care providers with EHR systems give their patients direct access to their health information online in ways that help preserve privacy and security. This access enables you to keep better track of your care, and in some cases, answer your questions immediately rather than waiting hours or days for a returned phone call. This access may also allow you to communicate directly and securely with your health care provider.

Learn More About

EHR Benefits for our Country's Health

Health It and Health Care Quality

Health IT and Convenience



Learn how to be more involved in your own health care: Take control of your health with e-health tools

Accessing Your Health Information  

Your rights and your provider's responsibilities

You have the right to receive copies of your health information from your doctor and from other providers, such as physical therapists and social workers. If your health care provider keeps your records electronically, you have a right to receive them in either electronic or paper form.

Depending on your doctor's or hospital's policies, you may have to make requests for health information in writing, and you may be asked to pay a small fee to cover your doctor's costs for furnishing you with the information. Many health care providers — particularly those still using paper-based systems — may not have all of your records available immediately, so it might take them a while to fulfill your request.

Finally, in some limited circumstances, your doctor may refuse to comply with your request. In such cases, they must supply an explanation in writing.

Making your request

For each provider from whom you wish to receive records, prepare to make your request by writing down what information you want and how you would like to receive it. Think about the following questions:

  • Are you looking for all the information your provider has about you, or for specific information about, for example, a particular condition or office visit?
  • What type of information are you looking for? You can ask for any or all types of information in your medical records, including:
    • summary of the office visit,
    • diagnoses,
    • doctors' notes,
    • laboratory results,
    • medication information,
    • images (X-rays, MRIs, etc.); and
    • account and billing information.
  • Do you want your records on paper or electronically (if available)? If you want them electronically, how do you want to receive them (via the web, on a flash drive, on a CD, etc.)? Note that your provider may not be able to support your preferred format.

Once you know what you're looking for, contact your health care provider's office to find out how to submit your request. In some cases, your doctor may provide instructions for requesting your records on his or her practice web site or in a handout about privacy policies. 

If you do not receive your information in a timely manner, follow up with your provider's office. If you feel your request is still not being handled properly, you can register a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Civil Rights.


Copyright © 2011 PSM-HITREC. All Rights Reserved. Funded by: USHHS, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).