Electronic Health Records

Use & Optimization News

More Patients Accessing Electronic Medical Records, Says ONC

By Sara Heath

Healthcare consumers are accessing their electronic medical records at a growing rate, furthering the healthcare industry’s goal for increased EHR interoperability and health information exchange.

patient engagement with electronic health files and health information exchange on the rise

A recent study by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) reports that nearly four in 10 surveyed individuals were offered access to their electronic health records in 2014. This is a notable increase from 2013, where only 28 percent of respondents reported being offered electronic access to their health records.

Furthermore, over half of the individuals who reported being offered access to their records actually checked them, and 81 percent of those individuals considered the information they accessed useful. In 2013, only 46 percent of individuals reported accessing their records, but nearly 87 percent found them useful.

In both 2013 and 2014, respondents who electronically accessed their medical records used the information foremost to monitor their health. Other popular uses for electronic medical files were downloading the information to a mobile device, or sharing the information with another party like a family member or another healthcare provider.

However, although the number of individuals electronically accessing medical records is on the rise, the majority of respondents still are not using their EHRs. The ONC report shows that the primary reason for this is because respondents did not have a need to access their medical records, with over 70 percent of respondents saying so in 2013 and 2014.

Other reasons for not accessing electronic medical records include security concerns, not being able to access the records, finding the website difficult to use, and having more than one online medical file.

The ONC also found that a large number of respondents did not know they had the right to electronically access their medical information, despite the HIPAA provision that states otherwise. Of those who did not access their electronic medical information, nearly one quarter of them did not know or believe that they had the right to access the information.

Furthermore, although nearly 68 percent of respondents reported that their physicians have an EHR, only 18 percent actually requested access to their medical information from their doctors. Of all surveyed individuals, regardless of whether or not their physician has an EHR, only 12 percent requested access to their electronic medical files.

Despite the growth of individual access to electronic health information, there still remains an issue in gaps in information exchange. Between 2012 and 2014, total reported information gaps dropped from 39 to 36 percent, which the ONC states is not a statistically significant difference. Experiencing a gap in information exchange meant a patient had to bring his or her test results from one provider to another, had to recall his or her own health information because it was not on record, having to repeat a test that had already been administered, or had to wait for test results for longer than he or she believed reasonable.

According to the ONC, this growth in patient-accessed electronic health information may be a result of various policies and initiatives fostering health information exchange and interoperability. For example, in 2014 about half of primary care providers and hospitals had their own view, download, and transmit (VDT) capabilities. This is notably higher than in 2013, prior to the start of Stage 2 Meaningful Use, which had specific provisions regarding the sharing of electronic files with patients.

These results also show that patients are buying into the access that physicians are providing them.

“Individuals are using online medical records to better manage their health and health care needs. Monitoring health was consistently the most common use of online medical records,” the authors of the report state. “Individuals who reported accessing their online record, reported high rates of access to information that enabled monitoring, such as their list of medications, medical or health problems, and laboratory test results.”

The ONC also states that educating consumers on their rights to access is an important step in increasing patient engagement with electronic medical information. By informing them of this right, as well as emphasizing the importance and usefulness of accessing this information, the ONC predicts that more patients may electronically access their medical records.

“A lack of need remains the most frequently cited reason for not accessing an online medical record,” the authors write. “Illustrating the value of using an online medical record to manage one's health and address information gaps among providers could increase usage among those individuals who cited a lack of need as a reason for not accessing an online medical record.”

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