Privacy, Accountability Lead Health IT Concerns

Doctors and consumers want technology to play a great role in healthcare, but demand safeguards to protect patient privacy when information is shared, finds Markle Foundation study.



Health IT Boosts Patient Care, Safety
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Slideshow: Health IT Boosts Patient Care, Safety

In a survey that gauged the opinions of doctors and patients on how health IT should be used in a modern healthcare system, both groups agreed on key requirements related to information sharing, patient privacy, and ways health IT can improve the quality of care.

The Markle Survey of Health in a Networked Life draws its findings from two surveys: one interviewed 1,582 members of the public, while the other surveyed 779 physicians.

Conducted in August by Knowledge Networks on behalf of the Markle Foundation, the findings revealed that both groups want public investments in IT to come with accountability and privacy protections, and hope these investments lead to improvements in the way healthcare is delivered to patients. The key findings also showed that both doctors and patients want technology to play a greater role in healthcare.

-- Among doctors, 74% would prefer computer-based means of sharing patient information with each other. (Only 17% of doctors predominantly use such means today.)

-- Nearly half (47%) of the doctors would prefer computer-based means of sharing records with their patients. (Only 5% do so today.) And 74% said patients should be able to share their information electronically with their healthcare providers.

-- Among the public, 10% reported currently having an electronic personal health record (PHR) -- up from 3% who reported having one in Markle's 2008 survey.

-- Roughly 2 in 3 of both groups (70% of the public and 65% of the doctors) agreed that patients should be able to download their personal health information online.

-- A full 70% of the public said patients should get a written or online summary after each doctor visit, but only 36% of the doctors agreed. (Only 4% of doctors say that they currently provide all their patients a summary after every visit).

17 Leading EHR Vendors
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Slideshow: 17 Leading EHR Vendors

"Roughly 80% majorities of both the public and doctors agreed that it's important to require participating hospitals and doctors to share information to better coordinate care, cut unnecessary costs, and reduce medical errors," Carol Diamond, Markle's managing director of health, said in a statement.

"By the same overwhelming margin, four in five doctors and patients expressed the importance of privacy protections for online medical records," Diamond said. "They also agree on the importance of measuring progress. This survey is a powerful indication that the public and physicians alike want investments in health IT to come with accountability."

Other findings from the Markle survey include:

-- Majorities (70% of the public and 80% of doctors) support privacy-protection practices, such as letting people see who has accessed their records, notifying people affected by information breaches, and giving people mechanisms to exercise choice and correct information.

-- Most (65% of the public and 75% of doctors) agreed that it's important to have a policy against the government collecting personally identifiable health information for health IT or healthcare quality-improvement programs.

-- If there are safeguards to protect identity, however, 68% of the public and 75% of the doctors expressed a willingness to allow composite information to be used to detect outbreaks, bioterrorist attacks, and fraud; conduct research; and implement quality- and service-improvement programs.

-- Both groups (75% of the public and 73% of doctors) said measuring progress on improving healthcare quality and safety is important to ensure public health IT investments are well spent. Specific requirements to improve the nation's health in areas like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and asthma were considered important by 69% of the public and the doctors.

-- Only 36% of doctors, but 85% of the public, describe themselves as "not very" or "not at all" familiar with the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs, which provide payments to eligible healthcare professionals, hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs) as they adopt EHR technology.

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