Whereas other industries have used technology to improve consumer access their information and data, the healthcare industry in the US has somehow managed to avoid giving patients access to their medical information along with tools to help them manage their care more independently. However, recent legislation has mandated that providers and hospitals make health information technology (IT), such as electronic health records (EHRs), a major aspect of quality care by originally incentivizing before eventually penalizing its level of use over the next few years.
While most agree that American healthcare needs to change, the shape this reform takes depends on the position a person or organization find itself as either a provider or recipient of care. Two recent surveys demonstrate the gap that exists between physicians and patients about electronic access to health information.
What patients want
First, there is last week’s Accenture survey that reveals the views of 1,100 American patients concerning the availability of their medical data, “Is healthcare self-service online enough to satisfy patients?” By this point, it’s no shocking revelation that individuals want digital access, but it may come as a surprise that such a large number of people are clueless as to whether their information can be accessed online. Nearly half of the respondents (less than 46%) don’t know if their records are available electronically. “During these in-person visits, are doctors informing patients of the services that are available to patients online? According to the survey, it may not be happening,” the report indicates.
Despite this lack of awareness, 90% wanted the access to their records as well as tools to make use of them in a meaningful way. And it’s not just about access; it’s also about what form this access should take. Depending of the type of information, patients want varying forms of access to:
• receive digital reminders for preventative or follow-up care: 88% email; 63% mobile
• book, change, or cancel appointments: 72% online; 68% mobile
• request prescription refills: 73% mobile; 72% online
Even though respondents are requesting online access, they don’t believe that it should take the place of human interaction. An overwhelmingly majority of patients (85%) still believe in the importance of interacting with their physicians face to face.
What physicians can do
Today, a survey of 1,190 practitioners across 75 specialties revealed the current state of affairs for physicians attempting to make technological a part of their practices. The 2012 National Physician Survey showed that two-thirds of physicians are struggling with the adoption of an electronic medical/health records (EMRs/EHRs) though just as many believe these systems will improve patient care.
Although these providers have faith in the potential of the systems to improve the level of patient care, they face challenges in trying to adopt new health IT solutions because of existing constraints. Even with increased availability of new mobile technologies (e.g., tablets, smartphones), physicians still primarily communicate using yesterday’s technology. According to the survey, providers who email patients are in the minority with 1 out of 5 making use of it. And it would seem that this approach extends to how providers approach the process of getting new patients: 22% think patients find them online compared to 71% and 33% via word of mouth and referral respectively.
So what stands in the way of increasing the line of communication between providers and patients? More than 80% of physicians indicate that administrative tasks, such as seeking reimbursement from insurers or approvals from patients, prevent them from doing more. And it’s not that they’re not concerned with their patients. More than half (55%) believe they spend insufficient time with patients with another 38% acknowledging that they don’t see enough patients on a day-to-day basis.
It’s obvious that both sides of the patient-provider relationship want things to improve, but it seems that one half of this partnership is shouldering much more of the responsibility. Are patients expecting too much from their providers? Or have they expected too little in the past?
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