Background: Two interesting health care trends are currently occurring: 1) patient-facing technologies, such as personal health records, patient portals, and mobile health apps, are being adopted at rapid rates, and 2) primary care, which includes family practice, is being promoted as essential to reducing health care costs and improving health care outcomes. While these trends are notable and commendable, both remain subject to significant fragmentation and incentive misalignments, which has resulted in significant data coordination and value generation challenges. In particular, patient-facing technologies designed to increase care coordination, often fall prey to the very digital fragmentation issues they are supposed to overcome. Additionally, primary care providers are treating patients that may have considerable health information histories, but generating a single view of such multi-source data is nearly impossible. Discussion: We contribute to this debate by proposing that primary care practices become digital health information hubs for their patients. Such hubs would offer health data coordination in a medically professional setting with the benefits of expert, trustworthy advice coupled with active patient engagement. We acknowledge challenges including: costs, information quality and provenance, willingness-to-share information and records, willingness-to-use (by both providers and patients), primary care scope creep, and determinations of technical and process effectiveness. Even with such potential challenges, we strongly believe that more debate is needed on this topic prior to full implementation of various health information technology incentives and reform programs currently being designed and enacted throughout the world. Ultimately, if we do not provide a meaningful way for the full spectrum of health information to be used by both providers and patients, especially early in the health care continuum, effectively improving health outcomes may remain elusive. Summary: We view the primary care practice as a central component of digital information coordination, especially when considering the current challenges of digital health information fragmentation. Given these fragmentation issues and the emphasis on primary care as central to improving health and lower overall health care costs, we suggest that primary care practices should embrace their evolving role and should seek to become digital health information hubs for their patients.
Baird and Nowak: Why primary care practices should become digital health information hubs for their patients. BMC Family Practice 2014 15:190. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12875-014-0190-9
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