Published by the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF), the study interviewed 1,849 people and found that 7% of adults used a PHR, which entails using a Web site to record health information online. That's more than double the proportion identified as users of a PHR two years ago.
The report showed that 56 percent of respondents said using a PHR made them feel they knew more about their health and 52 percent said they better understood their doctor's decisions.
The survey also indicates that older, less educated people who have more than one chronic illness are more likely than others to say they are more knowledgeable about their health as a result of using a PHR.
Sixty-one percent of respondents who are 45 years-of-age or older and 61 percent of those who don't have a college degree were more likely than others to say they know more about their health care as a result of using a PHR.
Additionally, 58 percent of respondents with two or more chronic conditions said they know more about their health compared to 44 percent of those with one or no chronic conditions.
"People with lower incomes, less education and those who are living with multiple chronic illnesses have the most to gain from PHRs," said Veenu Aulakh, senior program officer in the Better Chronic Disease Program at CHCF. "This reinforces our assertion that getting a PHR in the hands of more consumers could positively impact the health of the country," Aulakh added.
With regard to non-users who may be interested in adopting a PHR, the survey showed that 58 percent said they would be interested in using a PHR if it were from a hospital or medical practice they use. Fifty percent identified insurance companies as desirable sources of PHRs; and 25 percent expressed interest in using a PHR developed by companies like Google or Microsoft.
According to Aulakh, it's a difficult task to get people with lower incomes, less education, and those with multiple chronic illnesses to go online and get access to a PHR. One of the barriers, Aulakh said, is that providers who care for patients with lower incomes are less likely than their peers to have an electronic health record system in place with the option of a personal health record.
"Since Internet use is significantly lower among lower income populations, effort must be taken to increase access and develop applications that work on cell phones, since cell phone penetration is high among all populations," Aulakh said. "It is important for the general public to better understand the value of personal health records to improve communication, increase convenience, and improve care," Aulakh added.