Survey shows growing appeal for PHRs

By Patty Enrado
09:02 AM

Consumers engage more in their own healthcare when they have access to information through personal health records, according to a new survey on consumers and health IT.

Patients who are less educated, lower income and are chronically ill report greater value from PHR use, although they are using it less than the younger, highly educated and higher-income general users, the California HealthCare Foundation's survey found in results released Tuesday.

The digital divide is real, but the survey finding shows that the income barrier may not be as insurmountable as once thought, said Steve Findlay, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union. While there is hope in the trail being blazed by early adopters, linking home monitoring devices with PHRs and having Microsoft and Google continue to expand their reach into this group will drive greater adoption, he said.

The survey showed that PHR use remains low, but it has doubled in two years, with one in 14 Americans saying they have used a PHR, said Sam Karp, vice president of Programs for CHCF. Michael Perry, partner at Lake Research Partners, which conducted the study, noted there has been a "sharp uptick" in the past two years.

Consumers prefer to use a PHR that is provided by their healthcare provider. The survey results confirmed what Kaiser Permanente has seen with its PHR use, said Kate Christensen, MD, medical director for Kaiser Permanente's Internet Services Group. More than 50 percent, or more than 3 million members, of its eligible members have a PHR. Its high adoption rate is a result of the PHR being offered from a trusted source with trusted data and shared information improving the patient-physician relationship and communication, she said.

Two of three Americans are concerned about privacy and security of their health information, according to the survey. Their comfort levels rise, however, when they interact with and receive benefits from a PHR. Also promising is that 66 percent of respondents agreed that privacy concerns should not stop efforts to learn how technology can improve our healthcare, said Perry.

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, health economist and principal at THINK-Health and Health Populi blog, said that healthcare engagement through PHRs can "bend the cost curve" in healthcare spend. In the last two years, $2.3 billion was spent on chronic care, with 75 percent of the dollars being spent on people with chronic conditions, she said. If the industry can "move the needle" on chronic illness care through the use of PHRs, the country can recoup in one year the $46 million in stimulus funding through ARRA, she said.

For five key findings from the survey click on next page.

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