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Do patients understand their right to access their electronic health records?

Author | Date April 12, 2012

The stage two meaningful use  places a much greater emphasis on patient engagement and set high standards for making data electronically available to patients. Physicians should think about these requirements as they work to implement a new EHR system.

The new rules state that a professional must make electronic records available to 50 percent of their patients. Furthermore, 10 percent of a physician’s patients must actually view and download these records. This is a high bar, and some groups have expressed dissatisfaction about the fact that doctors’ incentive payments will be dependent upon patient behavior.

Regardless, the best response to the problem is for practices to start planning how they are going to meet these requirements. Of course, the meaningful use rules could still go through different iterations before being finalized and it is possible the provision could be dropped. But assuming this rule stays in place, doctors do not want to get caught flat footed. A proactive approach is best.

First, it is useful to look at the regulation from a practical standpoint. What technology will you need to make records available to patients? The most obvious answer is a patient portal.

Most EHR vendors have products that include patient portals. Simply selecting this functionality may be the easiest way to satisfy the meaningful use rule. When the patient portal and the EHR system are purchased and set up together, there will be no need for extensive integration efforts. They will come set up so that whatever a physician does in a patient’s record in his system will automatically update the record that is viewable by patients.

This means less time at the computer. It also means that creating an online patient record for each individual that has a corresponding EHR will be totally painless for physicians. Such simple integration should make it a snap for physicians to meet the quota of providing online access to 50 percent of patients.

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Next comes the hard part: How to get 10 percent of patients to actually view and download their information. Just because they have access to their records is no guarantee that they will do anything with them. Furthermore, surveys have shown very low interest in among regular people in using personal health records. Physicians are on the hook for finding some of way of generating interest.

The key is to show patients value in accessing their records online. Overall adoption of personal health records has been abysmal. Patients simply do not want to feel like they are putting in time and effort when it comes to keeping track of their data. However, individuals have shown support for specific elements and uses of the technology.

For example, a study published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology indicated that the majority of patients would like to have immediate online access to test results. Many others say that receiving results online after a short delay to give physicians time to interpret findings is preferable to having to wait for a doctor to call.

In order to get patients more engaged and downloading their records at higher rates physicians should sell their patients on these benefits. Furthermore, they should follow up this sales pitch by actually posting relevant information to patients online records. The more patients are aware of this kind of direct benefit, the more they will log on.

The meaningful use provision requiring physicians to get their patients to download their records will be difficult to satisfy. And with the opposition to it, it may still be dropped from the regulations before the Stage 2 rules go into effect in 2014. But assuming the rule will stay in play, physicians may want to start talking up the benefits of online records access to their patients now. This could make satisfying the requirement easier once the regulation goes live.

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