While consumer use of online personal health records is still low in the U.S., the digital records are catching on despite privacy and other concerns, according to a new study released Tuesday by the California Healthcare Foundation.
While only 7% of Americans -- or one in 14 -- say they've used a PHR, usage of the online records has doubled over the last two years, according to the CHF survey of 1,848 Americans over the age of 18.
Users of PHRs are more likely to pay closer attention to their health and be more engaged in their care when their health information is accessible online, according to the findings.
The interview study was conducted from mid-December to mid-January by Lake Research Partners on behalf of the CHF, an independent, non-profit philanthropic organization focused on improving healthcare delivery.
While the study found that the typical "early adopter" PHR user is male, young, college educated and earns an annual income of $75,000 or more, the biggest benefits of PHRs appear to be derived from users who are less educated, have lower incomes, or have multiple chronic illnesses, said Mike Perry, a partner at Lake Research Partners.
Among PHR users, lower income individuals are more likely to say that PHRs help them feel "more connected" to their physicians, PHR while users without a college degree asked their doctors more questions, Perry said.
Most significantly, 40% of PHR users with two or more chronic conditions said they did something to improve their health, compared to 24% of other survey respondents.
"Most health care is self care," said Sam Karp, CHF's VP of programs. Because most patients only see their physicians occasionally, access to health information appears to be an important factor in patients being more engaged in their own healthcare.
The value that chronically ill patients derive from PHRs is important in their ability to manage their health, said Joshua Seidman, an advisor in the Office of National Coordinator for Health IT.
An important recommendation for the meaningful use requirements being set by the federal government is to have patients more engaged in their care through the use of personal health records and access to their health information, Seidman said.