No improvement in patient access to online health records, ONC finds

By | May 22, 2019

Dive Brief:

  • The percentage of patients offered online access to their medical records didn’t change from 2017 to 2018, remaining just above 50%, according to a new data brief from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.
  • A slightly higher number of those offered access actually viewed their records online last year compared to the previous year, and about 33% more of them downloaded the information, ONC said. The report reviews information from the National Cancer Institute’s Health Information Trends Survey.
  • Some reasons patients gave for not accessing online records included preferring to speak directly with a provider and not having a need to use the record.

Dive Insight:

As the trend of consumerism in healthcare heats up, patients are looking for more online engagement with their health providers. But getting consumers to access their medical records online can be elusive because of poor user interfaces, payers and providers not offering a patient portal, problems with patient matching and other technical reasons.

Most hospitals allow patients to view and download their information, but some types of facilities lag behind others, and patients are slow on uptake across the board, according to ONC.

The agency has been working to improve patient access opportunities, particularly in a proposed rule from earlier this year that calls on the industry to adopt standardized application programming interfaces and sets penalties for blocking information. The proposed rule was released with a similar proposal from HHS that requires payers share patient health information digitally by next year.

But lawmakers and various industry groups have said they need more time to comment on and implement the massive regulations if they become final. HHS extended the comment period but has pushed back against more delay.

Patient access to online medical records varied based on demographics, healthcare use and internet access, ONC said in the latest data brief. People with a chronic condition and others who go to the doctor often were more likely to be offered access, as were those with higher levels of income and education.

The finding “suggests greater efforts are needed to offer access and encourage usage of online medical records across all individuals,” ONC said.

Access to medical information through the web is becoming more common as apps using health data proliferate. ONC found that 84% of people reported owning a smartphone or tablet and about half of them had a health or wellness app. Most used them to track progress toward a health goal. But fewer than 30% shared information from an app or wearable with a healthcare professional.

More than a third of respondents said they used an electronic monitoring device such as a Fitbit, about the same as in 2017. And payers have attempted to jump on the wearables bandwagon. Earlier this month, Aetna launched an Apple Watch app that incorporates claims data and allows users to track activity milestones. It joins similar products from UnitedHealth Group, Humana, Oscar and Blue Cross Blue Shield plans.

Patients still have concerns about the privacy and security of their records, although fewer people noted privacy concerns (down to 14% from 25%) or lack of website access (down to 10% from 20%) from 2017 to 2018.

A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than half of respondents whose doctor uses an EHR said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned an unauthorized person would access their personal health information — although the percentage dropped from previous surveys.

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