Poll: public isn't budging much on their attitudes about health IT

Less than one in 10 American adults use electronic medical records or e-mail their doctor, according to a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll.

Nearly half of respondents of the poll, which was conducted among 2,035 U.S. adults online from June 8-10, weren't even sure if their physician offered these technologies.

The majority of those polled said they would like their doctors to access their medical records online, but only about a third (30 percent) believe their insurer should have the same access.

Overall, "the general public only has a vague idea, only a very limited understanding, of what all this is about," reasoned Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll, a service of Harris Interactive.

The poll results show that despite the Obama administration's campaign to expand the use of health information technology, public attitudes toward electronic medical records haven't budged much over the past few years.

In 2009, 78 percent of adults indicated that they "strongly" or "somewhat" agree that doctors should have access to their electronic medical records. In 2007, 80 percent were in agreement on physicians' access to those records.

The polls also shows that patients' use of various electronic functions remains very low. Only nine percent can communicate with their doctors by e-mail, up from four percent in 2006. Eight percent can schedule a doctor's visit online, up from three percent, and eight percent can get diagnostic test results by e-mail, up from two percent in 2006.

A little more than a quarter (28 percent) of those polled thought their doctor used electronic medical records, but 42 percent said they didn't know if their primary care physician had the technology.

According to experts, consumers remain skeptical about the inappropriate use of health information stored and accessed electronically.

"Ideally, the government only allows 'covered entities' access to your entire health history, called your 'personal health information,'" said Erin Stevenson, a digital health-care consultant at Redwood Medical Consulting in Bayside, Calif. But the law is vague and full of loopholes, he explained.

Yet Stevenson doesn't think consumer skepticism will impede wider use of the technology. In the end, he said, the technology "makes moving around a city, state, or changing doctors much easier," and it allows doctors to make quicker and better informed decisions.

But, as of now, Americans don't seem to appreciate the benefits of having their intimate health details stored in a computer vs. stowed away in file folders scattered across multiple doctors' offices, Taylor said.

"The policy wonks talk very persuasively about all of the improvements in quality that come from having a complete electronic medical record," he observed, but "that case has not really been made effectively to the public."

The survey also revealed regional differences, with more people in the West (35 percent) saying their primary-care doctor uses an electronic medical record than in other regions.

But with less than a tenth of American adults using electronic medical records, "the numbers are still very small," said Taylor, suggesting that the electronic "revolution" in healthcare is still in its infancy. But the numbers in some cases have doubled, and he expects that trend to accelerate over time.

"There's no question; it's the future," Taylor said. "The question is 'How quickly do we get there?'"

 

To view data from the poll, continue to the next page.

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