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Health IT

Provider and Patient Attitudes About Health Records Don’t Line Up

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doc and patient talking

Though three-quarters of patients believe electronic health records (EHRs) will improve their care, only one third actually want their medical records to be digital.

That statistic comes from an August survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by Harris Interactive, the fourth such annual breakdown of the consumer experience with health IT.

Doctors may not be opening up the conversation about EHRs.

As the Affordable Care Act gained momentum over the past four years, consumer opinion seems to have held steady, the survey reveals. Over the same period, more and more doctors have ramped up their adoption of EHRs and health IT, crossing a critical “tipping point” earlier in 2013, spurred by government incentives.

Why haven’t patient attitudes shifted at the same rate? The answer may lie in the numbers.

The survey revealed that only 29 percent, or less than one-third, of patients have actually had their doctor talk to them about electronic records.

Patient Perspective

“The juxtaposition here is that since the HITECH Act became law four years ago, healthcare providers have made tremendous strides in adopting EHRs, but there has been little to no change in Americans’ acceptance of digital medical records,” Charles Fred, president of healthcare provider solutions at Xerox, said in a statement.

Only 19 percent of adults are currently able to view their medical records online, but that will soon change. One of the requirements for Meaningful Use Stage 2 incentives, which became available this week, is that patients must be able to access their medical records online via a patient portal soon after an appointment.

 “[Patients] need to be educated by providers on how this will empower them to take charge of their own care.” – Charles Fred

In fact, to earn the incentive, doctors must not only make it possible for patients to see their records, but at least five percent of their patients must actually take advantage of that opportunity by October 2014.

“Patients will soon have more access to their personal health information than ever before, but they need to be educated by providers on how this will empower them to take charge of their own care,” Fred said.

Patients do seem to believe digitized medical records have advantages: 62 percent think EHRs save money, and 73 percent believe they will improve the quality of provider service. But 83 percent “have concerns,” primarily about security, up one percentage point from four years ago.

Provider Disconnect

We noted in a graphic last month that more than half of doctors think health IT is improving patient safety, care quality, and making medicine smarter.

Costs seemed to be the biggest concern, not security.

Though providers overall feel positively about health IT and EHRs, their frustrations with early stage implementation and costs may be contributing to negative attitudes: 56 percent say they are frustrated with usability, 61 percent think the technology isn’t helping improve patient relationships, and 66 percent think it has yet to improve efficiency.

Costs seemed to be their biggest concern, not security. That indicates a disconnect between patients and providers.

Both groups seem to agree that EHRs will ultimately benefit patient health, but as patients take an increasingly active role interfacing with health IT, positive attitudes will be key to overcoming obstacles still ahead.

This underscores the importance of communications between provider and patient: Now is a good time for doctors to start the conversation about digital records, and ask their patients what worries them and what they want out of their care. These types of conversations can help patient and provider attitudes align.

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