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KFF Poll: More Americans Note Importance of EHRs, but Online Access to Data Remains Challenging

September 6, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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A new health tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that while eight in ten Americans are now reporting that their healthcare provider enters patient data into a computer during a visit, accessing one’s health information online still proves challenging.

The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll was conducted August 18-24, 2016, among a nationally representative random telephone sample of more than 1,200 adults ages 18 and older, living in the U.S. The survey asked about a variety of political and public health issues, in addition to electronic health records (EHRs).

Indeed, in 2009 poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, NPR, and the Harvard School of Public Health, about half of the public (46 percent) reported that their doctor entered their health information into a computer during a visit. In the most recent survey, eight in ten Americans said their doctor or healthcare provider enters their health information into a computer during a visit. In addition, half (52 percent) of Americans said it is “very important” for their healthcare provider to use electronic or computer-based medical records instead of using paper-based records, representing a small uptick from 42 percent in 2009. An additional 28 percent said that it’s “somewhat” for their provider to use an EHR, while 8 percent it’s not important at all.

To this end, when asked about what type of medical information is important to be able to access, the majority of the public said that each type of information included in the survey is at least “somewhat” important. Eight in ten (79 percent) said being able to access the results of their lab tests is at least somewhat important. This is followed by about three-fourths who said the same about being able to access their general health history (75 percent), their prescription drug history (74 percent), and the notes written by their doctor of healthcare provider from their visit (73 percent). A smaller share (63 percent) said that accessing information about their mental health or substance abuse treatment is at least somewhat important.

However, while the vast majority of Americans said that it is important for their healthcare provider to use EHRs, and most noted that being able to access different types of medical information is important, a large share currently reported that their medical information is not available online. Across all the different types of health information, about a third said these types of information are not currently available to them online, with a slightly larger share (41 percent) said the notes written by their doctor or health provider are not available.

While 78 percent of Americans reported that at least “some” of their medical information is available online, much smaller shares reported accessing this information. Less than half of Americans reported having accessed any type of medical information online. When they do access medical information, 29 percent said they have accessed the results of lab tests, such as blood tests, x-rays, and mammograms, 26 percent said they have accessed general health history, 23 percent said they have accessed prescription drug history, and 21 percent said they have accessed notes written by their doctor or healthcare provider. A much smaller share reported accessing information about mental health or substance abuse treatment (9 percent).

As mentioned above, about eight in ten (78 percent) Americans have at least some medical records and personal health information available online. Of these, 60 percent (47 percent of total population) said they are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned that an unauthorized person might get access to their confidential records and information.

In sum, one-third of Americans reported that they have the ability to access their medical records or personal health information online but have not done so. The main reason given is that they did not have a need to access the information (49 percent), followed by not having access to the internet (15 percent), not knowing how to access the information (13 percent), and being concerned about privacy or security (11 percent). In addition, accessing online medical records or health information is seemingly dependent on education level and income, but noticeably, not on age. Almost half of individuals who have not accessed their own medical records have a high school diploma or less (49 percent) or earn less than $40,000 a year (47 percent), according to KFF.

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