stethoscopeDigitization of medical records and histories and making them accessible via the Internet is viewed as a means of enhancing health and medical care, as well as cutting costs – if carried out judiciously and with personal privacy and data security foremost in mind. As a study from the National Partnership for Women & Families (NPW&F) reveals, it can also lead to higher levels of interest and greater engagement on the part of patients.

Over four in five patients (86 percent) with online access to their health records accessed them at least once, and more than half (55 percent) three times or more a year, according to NPW&F’s “Engaging Patients and Families: How Consumers Value and Use Health IT.”

Commenting on the study, which builds on a pioneering 2011 study on health care IT produced by NPW&F, President Debra L. Ness stated: “To date, the public discourse on health IT has largely focused on the views of doctors, hospitals and vendors. It is crucial to hear what patients have to say about how they experience EHRs (electronic health records) and health IT as they receive care and manage their health — and that’s the focus of Engaging Patients and Families.”

Electronic Health Record Awareness
Study highlights include:

  • Eighty percent of adults in the United States who have doctors and know what kind of record systems — electronic or paper — their doctors use said that their doctors use EHR systems. That is up from 64 percent in 2011;
  • Eighty-five to 96 percent of all patients found EHRs useful in various aspects of care delivery, while only 57-68 percent saw paper records as useful;
  • Patients’ online access to EHRs has nearly doubled, surging from 26 percent in 2011 to 50 percent in 2014;
  • Consumers want even more robust functionality and features of online access than are available to them today, including the ability to email providers (56 percent); review treatment plans (56 percent), doctors’ notes (58 percent) and test results (75 percent); schedule appointments (64 percent); and submit medication refill requests (59 percent);
  • Patients’ trust in the privacy and security of EHRs has increased since 2011, and patients with online access to their health information have a much higher level of trust in their doctor and medical staff (77 percent) than those with EHRs that don’t include online access (67 percent); and
  • Different populations prefer and use different health IT functionalities. For instance, Hispanic adults were significantly more likely than non-Hispanic Whites (78 vs. 55 percent) to say that having online access to their EHRs increases their desire to do something about their health;i and African American adults were among the most likely to say that EHRs are helpful in finding and correcting medical errors and keeping up with medications. So specialized strategies may be necessary to improve health outcomes and reduce disparities in underserved populations.

NPW&F’s latest study comes five years after enactment of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 and the startof the Medicare and Medicaid EHR “Meaningful Use” Incentive Program.

“As the National Partnership’s new data show, more consumers are accessing, sharing and using their health information, underlining the importance of interoperability of health data and systems,” National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo, MD was quoted in a press release.

“We are focusing our efforts in these areas to empower individuals to address not only gaps in information exchange and interoperability, but also enable them to take steps to improve their health and better manage their health needs.”

Added Sandra R. Hernandez, president and CEO of the California HealthCare Foundation, which funded the study, “The views of patients must be front and center as we take the next steps in implementing health IT. As we as a nation become more diverse, the imperative to address disparities grows. We need the kind of robust information EHRs provide and the genuine patient engagement they can facilitate.”

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