Patients in Pennsylvania — as they already can in New Jersey and Delaware — could get results directly from a laboratory instead of waiting for a delivery from a doctor, under a proposal to change federal law announced Monday by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

"When it comes to health care, information is power," Sebelius said. "When patients have their lab results, they are more likely to ask the right questions, make better decisions and receive better care."

Pennsylvania is one of 13 states that only allow lab results to be sent to the doctor who orders the test.

The announcement came at the first-ever HHS Consumer Health IT Summit in Washington, which brought together consumers, providers, and the public and private sectors to discuss how best to empower consumers through information technology. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park was there with Sebelius as the department's Health IT Week is meant to celebrate the improvements being made in the quality of health care through new technologies.

The summit, Sebelius said, was a chance for the public and private sectors "to share strategies to improve consumer access to their health information, while safeguarding the privacy and security of their data."

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the HHS office for civil rights, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are combining efforts in the proposal to change the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) regulations and HIPAA privacy regulations. The changes would alter HIPAA privacy regulations.

This push is twofold. If patients are more involved and aware of their situation, they will make better choices, sometimes opting for less-costly care or at least recognizing the cost of care. Secondly, electronic records accessible to all of a patients' caregivers can improve outcomes by reducing errors and saving time, while lowering costs.

Sebelius also discussed a voluntary template for electronic health records companies, modeled after food nutrition labels, to help patients understand data and privacy plans.

How long do you think it will be before medical records disappear from paper folders?