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Americans Opening Up to Health Data Exchange with Doctors

“If it was with my current doctor and he showed me the site and how it was secure I may do it, because I trust him.”

By Frank Irving

Public opinion appears to be shifting toward increased acceptance of personal health data exchange. In contrast to previous sampling that showed Americans to be fiercely protective of their personal health information, a new survey from the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank, reveals a heightened level of openness to participating in a doctor-accessible health information website.

The latest work from Pew Research on privacy and information sharing is based on a survey conducted between Jan. 27 and Feb. 16, 2015, among a sample of 461 U.S. adults. Survey participants — by a two-to-one margin (56 percent to 26 percent) — said they would accept the following scenario:

A new health information website is being used by your doctor’s office to help manage patient records. Your participation would allow you to have access to your own health records and make scheduling appointments easier. If you choose to participate, you will be allowing your doctor’s office to upload your health records to the website and the doctor promises it is a secure site.

The “relatively strong appeal” of the scenario, according to the survey report, reflects the convenience of being able to access health records or interact with one’s physician online.

Twenty percent of respondents found middle ground, indicating their willingness to participate would depend on circumstance — such as knowing more about the vulnerability of the website.

Respondents aged 50 or older were more likely to agree to the hypothetical posting of their records than those aged 18 to 49, by a margin of 62 percent to 45 percent. The survey report indicated a possible rationale for that split: “Noteworthy numbers” of younger adults have suffered privacy breaches.

Additionally, more educated respondents — those who had attended some level of college — outnumbered their high school-educated counterparts by a margin of 59 percent to 44 percent in accepting the scenario.

Freeform responses
A random subset of participants accepted invitations to online focus groups, from which the following comments were taken:

> “If it was with my current doctor and he showed me the site and how it was secure I may do it, because I trust him.”

> “It depends on exactly what records are shared. It would have to be a very secure site for me to trust it. Scheduling appointments wouldn’t bother me though.”

> “Other than just the doctor’s promise, I would want a document that contained the promise and was signed by the doctor.”

> “My health records are my business and no one else’s. No website is totally secure.”

> “My health records are confidential. I don’t want them in the hands of someone unscrupulous or marketing companies possibly trying to recommend a drug or something based on a condition I may have.”

Pew Research noted that its previous work on privacy of the past two years showed “exceedingly low” levels of confidence among Americans in regard to the privacy and security of digital records maintained by institutions beyond their control.

To some extent, the tide of sentiment seems to be changing.

The complete report is available here in PDF form.

 

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