More Patients Support EHRs, But Worry About Privacy

New survey finds that most U.S. consumers want their doctors to

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, Senior Writer, InformationWeek

February 15, 2012

4 Min Read

12 EHR Vendors That Stand Out

12 EHR Vendors That Stand Out

12 EHR Vendors That Stand Out (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Although U.S. consumers see value in electronic health record (EHR) systems and want their doctors to use them, they also are highly concerned about their privacy and the security of that information, according to a new study.

The report, commissioned and issued by the National Partnership for Women & Families, was based on an online survey last August of 1,961 adults who said they have a primary care doctor. Of those respondents, about 59% said their doctors keep their medical records in EHR systems, with the remaining 41% saying their physician relies primarily on paper.

The survey was funded by Commonwealth Fund, Merck & Co., Inc., WellPoint, Inc. and the California HealthCare Foundation, and conducted by Harris Interactive.

The study "was designed to understand and assess patients' expectations of and trust in the use of health IT, and, in particular, look for differences in these two areas between individuals whose doctors use EHRs and those whose providers use paper records," said the report.

[ Here's how to make full use of your electronic health record system. See Don't Squander Your EHR Investment. ]

"We think consumers are critical in having a voice" as healthcare undergoes transformation," said Christine Bechtel, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, during a Wednesday conference call with media to discuss the study. Bechtel also is a member of the HIT Policy Committee that's advising the Office of National Coordinator for Health IT on the HITECH Act program details.

Key findings of the report, Making IT Meaningful: How Consumers Value and Trust Health IT, show that regardless of the type of records used by their physicians, a majority of consumers see value in EHRs, particularly for improving upon or accomplishing several key elements of care. For instance, when it comes to timely access of information to the care team, 80% of respondents whose doctors use EHRs rated their doctors positively in this area. Only 29% of respondents whose physicians use paper-based records rated their doctors favorably in this area.

Also, of respondents whose doctors use EHRs, consumers who have online access to their healthcare information see value in EHRs both for their providers and themselves. Among EHR respondents, only 26% had online access to their health information, but they were more positive about perceived value of and trust in EHRs. For instance, 82% of those respondents with online access to their records said they felt EHRs have a positive effect on overall quality of healthcare services, versus 72% without online access to their medical records who did not feel that way.

About 75% of respondents whose doctors use paper records said they want their physicians to adopt EHRs. However, at the same time, those respondents were uncertain of the potential impact on quality of care in switching from paper to an EHR. In fact, 41% of paper-system respondents said the transition would have "no impact" and 10% thought it would have a "negative impact."

Despite consumer interest and the value they generally see in EHRs, respondents are concerned about the safety of their health information. Fifty-nine percent of EHR respondents and 66% of paper-system respondents believe widespread adoption of EHR systems will lead to more personal information being lost or stolen.

Also, 51% of EHR and 53% of paper respondents believe the privacy of personal medical records and health information is not currently well protected by federal and state laws and organizational practices, according to the report.

Although the federal government is spending more than $27 billion over the next several years to incentivize doctors to implement and meaningfully use EHRs, it's important that consumers play a role, said Dr. Farzad Mostashari, U.S. national coordinator for health IT, during the press conference call discussing the report's findings.

"Early on we recognized that [EHRs] are not just about hospitals, doctors….This has to make a difference in people's everyday interactions with healthcare," he said.

The HITECH Act Meaningful Use program requirements that relate to e-prescriptions, patient education, and engagement, and after-visit summaries--"all of these are part and parcel of the framework for meaningful use of electronic health records," said Mostashari.

He also noted that the fact that the survey questioned consumers familiar with EHRs--and that the majority of survey respondents have doctors who use EHRs--reflected impressive progress in the adoption of these systems.

"This would've been a lot harder to do a few years ago when just 10% [of providers] had EHRs," he said.

The study's findings also provide meat for policy recommendations as the nation's healthcare transformation, including the Meaningful Use programs, evolves, said Bechtel. That includes emphasis on the importance of consumer education, and privacy and security in EHR policies and programs.

Healthcare providers must collect all sorts of performance data to meet emerging standards. The new Pay For Performance issue of InformationWeek Healthcare delves into the huge task ahead. Also in this issue: Why personal health records have flopped. (Free registration required.)

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About the Author(s)

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Senior Writer, InformationWeek

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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