Great progress is expected in health care during 2016, especially as it relates to patients increasingly engaging in their own health and care decisions.

An important tool making this possible is interoperability, a term that means computers and mobile devices are used to securely exchange, use and interpret patients’ health information. To ensure the right care is provided, at the right time, to the right person and for the right cost, all of us—ourselves, our families and our caregivers—should be able to safely and securely send, receive, find and use clinical and billing information electronically.

This secure exchange of data occurs today in hospitals and clinical offices across the United States. Here are three examples that show why securely sharing patient health information matters.

1. Exercise mode

Many of us use an exercise-tracking device such as a wristband or smartphone. I use one to ensure I walk 10,000 steps daily. If I had a chronic condition, such as diabetes, apps could help me manage my situation. I am engaged in my own health using this device’s apps.

Now, if my device can securely send data to my clinician’s computer systems, it helps us both better maintain my wellness and prevent possible illness or disease, depending on my health status. The interoperable, secure exchange (from my device to my caregiver and back) demonstrates how important establishing and using this capability can be.

2. On the road

If you’re travelling and need medical attention, a clinician needs basic information, such as your medications and any allergies. It could be vital to your well-being that your clinician be able to securely access your health record to find life-saving information.

If you move to a new city, your new caregiver needs an accurate and comprehensive medical history. Thus, patients need easy and ongoing access to their health records. Interoperable electronic health records can make this happen.

3. As a caregiver

Whether it is caring for an aging parent, spouse or a child of any age with a serious illness, we have a major responsibility in our loved one’s health status. Interoperability makes it possible for us to better manage the situation, because a personal health record contains a summary of care with medications, lab results, visit notes, billing information and more.