Consumer Health Informatics:

Emerging Issues

AIMD-96-86: Published: Jul 26, 1996. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed consumer health informatics, focusing on: (1) the demand for health information and expanding technological capabilities; (2) users' and developers' views on potential systems advantages and issues surrounding systems development and use; (3) federal, state, and local government involvement in developing these technologies; and (4) the status of related Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) efforts.

GAO found that: (1) increasing consumer demand for more detailed health information has driven the expansion of better health information systems; (2) studies on consumer health informatics show that these systems can respond quickly and efficiently to consumers' information needs, provide customized information, and reduce health care costs by limiting unnecessary medical services; (3) the systems' technologies, sponsors, and costs vary widely; (4) developers and users believe that consumer health systems provide additional benefits, such as anonymity, outreach, convenience, scope, and emotional support; (5) issues that need to be addressed to ensure effective and efficient system development, maintenance, and use include access, cost, information quality, security, privacy, computer literacy, and information overload; (6) options to address these issues include encouraging public- and private-sector partnerships and more research, involving interdisciplinary teams of professionals in systems development, and using sound systems development practices; (7) the federal government disseminates huge amounts of health care data through various means and supports systems development efforts; (8) states and local governments also support informatics projects and provide online health information to the public; (9) total government costs are unknown because there is no comprehensive inventory of informatics projects; and (10) HHS has outlined future steps to enhance health information for consumers and promote federal agency collaboration.

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