Electronic Health Records

Adoption & Implementation News

Meaningful useless? Most patients don’t even want EHRs

By Jennifer Bresnick

Stressed and short-changed providers aren’t the only ones complaining about the long and arduous process of converting to electronic health records.  Patients aren’t all that happy with the switch, either.  In a recent survey conducted by Xerox, researchers found that a mere 32% were eager to have their records turn digital, and 83% still harbor concerns about the privacy and security of their information that are strong enough to turn them off the idea.

The fourth annual survey shows that providers have not done a very good job educating their patients about the move to an EHR.  Only 29% of the 2009 patients taking part in the survey said that their provider had informed them of the switch.  The lack of awareness and education may be partially responsible for the continued distrust of EHRs, and could be a warning sign that the patient engagement portion of Stage 2 of the EHR Incentive Programs might be met with a frosty reception by consumers.

“The juxtaposition here is that since the HITECH Act became law four years ago, healthcare providers have made tremendous strides in adopting EHRs, but there has been little to no change in Americans’ acceptance of digital medical records,” said Charles Fred, president of healthcare provider solutions at Xerox. “Patients will soon have more access to their personal health information than ever before, but they need to be educated by providers on how this will empower them to take charge of their own care.”

Despite the overwhelming number of patients who have concerns about putting their personal health information on a hard drive, participants did see how EHRs could improve healthcare and cut costs.  Sixty-two percent agreed that EHRs had the potential to make healthcare cheaper, and 73% believe that the quality of the services they receive would likely improve with electronic records.  These numbers are slightly higher than the previous year’s survey, indicating some progress in patient confidence.

The results might seem frustrating to providers who have poured thousands of dollars and countless man-hours into the EHR implementation process.  Meaningful use is really only beginning to incorporate patient satisfaction as a goal of the program, and while federal regulators hope to grow engagement over the next two stages of the program, both the government and the individual provider will have a lot of work to do in order to make up the lost ground involved with low consumer trust.

As we move into Stage 2, providers may be wise to take some extra time for patient outreach, informing consumers of their new options for data access, and illustrating how patient portals and EHRs can concretely improve their experiences.  Providers cannot succeed in Stage 2 without patients getting on board, and even the simple act of sending a letter to explain the switch could be the difference between meeting the 5% engagement threshold and losing out on incentives in the next few years.

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