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Personal Health Records Use Rising

Despite privacy and other concerns, 7% of Americans have online PHRs -- twice as many as two years ago.
"Engagement is one of the five priorities of the meaningful use of health records," said Seidman during a CHF teleconference to discuss the survey results.

While more consumers are using PHRs, 75% of Americans are concerned about the privacy of their health information -- one of the biggest potential barriers to using PHRs, according to the survey.

However, privacy concerns tend to fade among consumers who use PHRs and gain value from the records.

Also, another potential barrier to more widespread use of PHRs is that 61% of non-PHRs users said they didn't think they needed online tools to handle their health.

Among consumers without a PHR, individuals are most interested in using a PHR provided by their healthcare providers (58%), followed by a PHR available from a health plan (50%), government group such as Medicare (36%), non-profit organization (35%), third-party firm such as Google or Microsoft (25%), and employer (25%).

So, what do PHR users like about their access to digital health records?

According to users of PHRs, the top five reasons for accessing their PHR is to make sure health information is correct; checking for test results; reviewing drug records online; e-mailing providers; and scheduling office visits.

The use of PHRs for accessing records is important to boosting patients' safety, said Dr. Kate Christensen, a physician and medical director of Internet services at Kaiser Permanente, which has the largest civilian installation of e-medical records in the U.S.

"PHRs are a major safety tool," she said. When patients go online to check their information, they're more likely to catch mistakes that need to be corrected by their healthcare provider, such as an error in an patient's allergy list, she said.

Also, while it's true that doctors are often faced with an increase in e-mails when patients have online access to their records, that electronic communication often replaces the need for phone calls and some office visits, said Christensen.

Also, "the more doctors encourage patients to e-mail them, the more e-mails they'll get," she said.