NPWF: strong support for health IT, but also concerns

By Mike Miliard
08:43 AM

As patients see their physicians use EHRs more, their trust in their doctors is is high, and so is their confidence in health IT's potential to improve care, according to a new survey from the National Partnership for Women & Families. Still, consumers have persistent worries about data breaches.

The study, commissioned by NPWF, with research directed by Alan Westin, professor emeritus at Columbia University, was conducted by Harris Interactive.

"We fielded this survey now, in the early stages of the transformation to EHRs, to assess consumer views and to measure whether the ways doctors and hospitals are using them is what patients want and need," said Christine Bechtel, vice president at the National Partnership and a member of the federal Health IT Policy Committee.

"For health IT to deliver on its promise, consumers must support it," she added. "If they don't, we will see political pressure for repeal and the promise will be squandered.  What we found is encouraging, but there are still potential landmines ahead."

[See also: Consumer trust 'essential enabler' to EHR adoption.]

"This survey draws attention to a critical, but sometimes overlooked, facet of health information technology – patients and their families need to be at the center of efforts to modernize health care's information infrastructure," said National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari, MD.

Respondents to the survey, titled "Making IT Meaningful: How Consumers Value and Trust Health IT," had an ongoing relationship with a care provider and knew whether that provider uses an electronic or paper record system. Among the findings:

  • Regardless of the type of record their physician uses, patients see value in EHRs. When asked if an EHR is or would be useful for seven key elements of care – such as making sure doctors have timely access to relevant information, and helping patients communicate directly with providers – 88 to 97 percent of those whose doctors use EHRs, and 80 to 97 percent of those whose doctors use paper medical records, said EHRs would be useful. 
  • Just six percent of respondents whose doctors use EHRs are unsatisfied with the medical record system their doctors are using.
  • Three in four EHR respondents whose doctors use paper records said it would be valuable if their doctors adopted EHRs.
  • The one in four respondents who have online access to their medical records (26 percent) were even more supportive of health IT than those who do not, particularly when it comes to the ways in which EHRs benefit them personally.  They were also more trusting of doctors to protect their privacy.
  • Overwhelming majorities of respondents, regardless of record system, trust their doctors to protect the privacy of their health information.
  • Consumers rated EHRs higher than paper records when it comes to giving patients confidence their information is safe, complying with privacy laws, giving patients more control over their health information, earning their trust, and seeing a record of who has accessed their information.
  • There are concerns about data breaches and current privacy laws. Three in five respondents whose doctors use EHRs (59 percent) agree that widespread adoption of EHRs will lead to even more personal information being lost or stolen, as do 66 percent of respondents whose doctors use paper records. Similarly, more than half of those whose doctors use EHRs (51 percent) and 53 percent of those whose doctors use paper records agree that the privacy of personal medical records and personal health information is not currently well protected by federal and state laws and organizational practices.
  • Those with paper records today who are most worried about their privacy in this survey were men, those with a college education, respondents ages 35 to 46, and those living in the East and West.

An oversample of Hispanic adults found that those whose doctors use EHRs were significantly more likely than others to see them as valuable in helping them personally in some important ways, such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, understanding their health conditions and keeping up with their medications. At the same time, they were more likely both to report having experienced a data breach and to worry that more widespread adoption of EHRs will lead to even more such breaches.

"The survey shows that patients see tremendous value in the power of electronic health records to improve the way care is delivered by facilitating better communication and helping them become active partners in their own care," said Mostashari. "Its findings offer important messages about how to build, implement and use health IT systems in ways that are meaningful and beneficial to patients and their families."

[See also: Consumer demand for healthcare IT 'never stronger,' survey shows.]

At the same time, "patients are also saying the success of advanced information technology rests on a foundation of trust that must be vigilantly protected," he said. "Encouraging the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records is important, but the ultimate goal should be to leverage information technology in ways that lead to higher quality care, more coordinated care, and care that is truly patient-centered."

"At a time when America's taxpayers have made such a large investment in the implementation of health IT, we have an obligation to use their dollars wisely and get this right," said Bechtel. "Amplifying the voices of consumers is key to success.  This survey gives consumers a voice."

The survey was conducted from Aug. 3 to Aug. 22, 2011, and polled 1,961 adults. Learn more here.

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