A survey released this week by the nonprofit Markle Foundation finds patients enthusiastic about being able to access their health information online. A vast majority say they would use this information to prevent unnecessary care and take better care of themselves.
More than 95 percent of respondents in the survey of 1,000 Americans said that doctors and individuals should have access to all of an individuals medical records. Two-thirds wanted to have access to their own records electronically.
More than 80 percent of respondents said that they would like to check for errors in their medical records and be able to review test results online. Nearly 70 percent said that having information available online would give them more control over their own health care.
But 80 percent of those surveyed said that they were very concerned about identity theft and fraud and that their information could be used without their permission. About 75 percent said they felt that the government should help establish privacy and confidentiality standards for electronic health information.
Carol Diamond, M.D., managing director of the Markle Foundation Health Program, said “people not only want to see their medical records, they want to use the information to communicate with their doctors and be more involved in managing their care.”
The survey did not ask how much effort patients would actually put into managing their health information or using online services to improve their care, such as how many hours a month they might devote to entering information or accessing advice.
An earlier study conducted on 1,000 U.S. residents in 2006 found less enthusiasm for electronic medical records. “The Top Seven Health Industry Trends of 07” from PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute found that only one-third of Americans thought electronic health records would improve health care. One-quarter said electronic records would not improve care, and the rest were unsure or said they needed more information.
James Fisher, national director of health IT at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said that lack of patient education explained results in is survey. “What we concluded is that there is a gap between consumer understanding of the value proposition,” he said. In other words, he said, once consumers understand EMRs, they will find them beneficial. He expects patient enthusiasm to increase rapidly as health plans and employers begin to offer PHRs.
Technology companies will play a role too. “Companies focused on personal telemedicine are household names like Intel and Motorola,” he said. “Their desire to get into the personal telemedicine market will create awareness of PHRs.”
The nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation hopes to promote the use of PHRs. This week the foundation announced $4.1 million grants to create health-improvement applications that assume personal health records are commonplace and available over the Internet.
These include developing a spoken interface for patients who could not manage a keyboard, as well as disease-specific programs for people with diabetes, heart failure, mental disorders, and adults and children with chronic conditions.
“By designing a variety of applications that can operate seamlessly within a broader PHR system, we can provide practical, consumer-oriented tools that fit the needs, preferences and lifestyles of individuals,” said Patricia Flatley Brennan, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is directing the program.