Patients want more from their EHRs

Large percentages looking for increased access and functionalities
By Mike Miliard
10:10 AM
Consumers and laptops

Having established a level of trust and familiarity with electronic health records over the past few years, increasing numbers of U.S. patients are looking for more advanced features from their EHRs, according to a new survey from the National Partnership for Women & Families.

[See also: Patients want online access to records]

The study, "Engaging Patients and Families: How Consumers Value and Use Health IT," follows up on a similar 2011 report that assessed consumer views toward EHRs. A lot has changed since then, with more and more patients comfortable with the idea of digitized records, and easier online access to health information spurring more patient engagement in their care.

In the past year, more than four in five patients with online access to their health records (86 percent) used their online records at least once, according to NPWF; more than half (55 percent) used them three or more times a year.

[See also: NPWF: strong support for health IT, but also concerns]

"To date, the public discourse on health IT has largely focused on the views of doctors, hospitals and vendors," said NPWF President Debra L. Ness in a press statement. "It is crucial to hear what patients have to say about how they experience EHRs and health IT as they receive care and manage their health."

By repeating questions from 2011, the new survey – which lays out seven strategies to help engage patients and families more effectively in their care – identifies trends in patient attitudes since meaningful use has helped fuel EHR adoption. Its new questions yield data on new topics in discussion for health IT policies and programs, such as patient-generated health data, patient care plans and mobile access.

"Engaging Patients and Families" is not the only new report being updated for the first time since 2011: It comes close on the heels of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology's new 2015 Strategic Plan, which was published on Monday for the first time in four years.

"As the National Partnership's new data show, more consumers are accessing, sharing and using their health information, underlining the importance of interoperability of health data and systems," said National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo, MD, in a statement. "We are focusing our efforts in these areas to empower individuals to address not only gaps in information exchange and interoperability, but also enable them to take steps to improve their health and better manage their health needs,"

Among other key points from NPWF's report, which polled more than 2,000 patients: Patients' online access to their health records has nearly doubled – from 26 percent in 2011 to 50 percent in 2014.

Still, they want even more functionality, including the ability to email providers (56 percent), review treatment plans (56 percent), see doctors' notes (58 percent) and test results (75 percent), schedule appointments (64 percent); and submit medication refill requests (59 percent).

Patients' trust in the privacy and security of EHRs has increased since 2011, and patients with online access to their health information have a much higher level of trust in their doctor and medical staff (77 percent) than those with EHRs that don't include online access (67 percent).

Different populations prefer and use different health IT functionalities. Hispanic adults were significantly more likely than non-Hispanic Whites (78 percent vs. 55 percent) to say having online access to their EHRs increases their desire to do something about their health. African American adults were among the most likely to say EHRs are helpful in finding and correcting medical errors and keeping up with medications.

NPWF suggests that "specialized strategies" may be necessary to improve health outcomes and reduce disparities in underserved populations.

"The views of patients must be front and center as we take the next steps in implementing health IT," said Sandra R. Hernández, president and CEO of the California HealthCare Foundation, which funded the poll. "As we as a nation become more diverse, the imperative to address disparities grows. We need the kind of robust information EHRs provide and the genuine patient engagement they can facilitate."

"We have made progress in leaps and bounds in just a few short years," said Mark Savage, NPWF's director of health information technology policy and programs, in a statement. "But clearly there are barriers still to overcome, and this report breaks down policy implications for the meaningful use program as well as broader delivery system initiatives that must be carried out. And it's an important reminder that meeting the needs of patients and families must always be at the core of health IT design and implementation."

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