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Survey: 1 in 3 Healthcare Consumers Lack Easy Access to Medical Records

September 19, 2017
by Heather Landi
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A survey of more than 1,100 healthcare consumers found that 97 percent across all age and gender demographics are familiar with cloud technology, yet 31 percent cannot easily access their medical records and only half of those can access medical records online via their healthcare provider, according to a report from Ambra Health.

The report from New York City-based Ambra Health, a medical data and image management SaaS company, also found that when it comes to moving diagnostic data like x-ray, CT and MRI from one provider to another, more than half of healthcare consumers (57 percent) report that they received their imaging via CDs, which they then had to give to their new provider or referred specialist. Only 17 percent of respondents reported that they were provided online access to their imaging that they could then share with another provider.

What’s more, it takes 44 percent of patients a day or more to move these medical images. These findings show a clear gap in the expectations of today’s empowered patient versus the services being offered by healthcare providers. Just 37 percent of healthcare consumers said they were highly satisfied with the experience of transferring imaging. Respondents aged 18 to 34 show a high degree of trust in cloud applications, and 77 percent say they would use one to access and share medical imaging.

“Radiology has not traditionally engaged directly with patients, but 80 percent of respondents said they would like to have access to their medical imaging alongside their test results, implying the need for increased annotation and patient facing reports that can be easily understood,” the report authors wrote. “And while there is significant discussion in the healthcare community about ‘data liquidity’ and the benefits of freely moving diagnostic data such as medical imaging to drive referrals, second opinion programs, or telehealth initiatives, survey respondents reported that moving this data is still CD-centric and manual.”

The report authors also noted that making imaging reports and studies patient-facing opens up opportunities for radiologists to break out of the dark room. “By providing patient-friendly reports, providers can create a powerful starting point for more interaction between patients, radiologists, and referring physicians. In addition, providers can eliminate the need to burn CDs or DVDs in order to share imaging back to the patient,” the report authors stated. New cloud-based tools enable radiologists to interactively annotate images and then route automatically to online patient portals or even securely email the studies directly to the patient and referring physician for specialized follow up, such as an orthopedic consult, the report noted.

The report examines on how healthcare consumers are using technology to manage their health, including the adoption of emerging services such as online scheduling, virtual care and medical image sharing, which showed some division by gender, as well as age group. And, the report authors state, the study reveals timely insights on how providers can realign their processes and technology to meet shifting patient behavior and preferences.

“Across all age demographics, consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable turning to their laptops and smartphones to manage their health. They are also making decisions based upon how well practices and hospitals are using technology to meet their needs for services that are most convenient for them. And while more practitioners are making the move to the cloud, healthcare data often remains stuck in silos, preventing patients from accessing and managing their own healthcare records easily as they move across providers,” the report authors wrote.

The survey findings indicate that patients are not holding back healthcare’s move to the cloud, as 77 percent of respondents report that they trust cloud technology, or are not concerned by it. The younger the patient, the more likely they are to trust the cloud, with an approximately 30-point swing in millennials (74 percent) vs. boomers (44 percent). Interestingly, a gender gap emerged here with men trusting the cloud more than women (66 percent vs. 52 percent), although both had low levels of distrust.

While referrals are still the primary way for patients to find a provider, with 72 percent indicating this as a top choice over their health insurance network, word of mouth or online research, 42 percent of respondents say they now conduct research online when selecting a provider. Less than a decade ago, online search was rarely used for finding healthcare providers, according to the report authors. Two-thirds, regardless of age and gender, said that online scheduling is key to patient engagement. The younger the patient is, the more relevant this becomes with 80 percent of millennials citing ease of medical record access and scheduling as a key consideration, while only 52 percent of boomers cite this as important. The report authors note that this has powerful implications for providers competing for patients, especially when coupled with upcoming changes to Meaningful Use requirements.

The majority of healthcare consumers (73 percent) indicated they would like all their medical data to be accessible via a standard website or mobile device. This includes easy online access to diagnostic data such as x-ray, CT, ultrasound and echo medical imaging, which is often omitted today from online patient portals. And when it comes to virtual care adoption, there is a significant age gap as 34 percent of 18-34-year-olds reported receiving virtual care today but only 3 percent among those aged 55+. By gender, men reported receiving virtual care more than women at 26 percent and 14 percent respectively. 

As mentioned above, 31 percent of respondents, regardless of age and gender, said they cannot easily access all of their medical records if asked. Of patients who responded that they could easily access all of their medical records, only 50 percent of them could do this through online access offered by their provider. Thirty-nine percent of respondents maintain a file with their own health records, and only 27 percent of respondents store their health records online themselves, showing that providers who offer this service can incur long-term patient loyalty.

When healthcare consumers shared the health-related activities they perform online, the top three areas included researching treatment (51 percent), viewing lab reports (41 percent), and managing prescriptions (40 percent). “While research and prescriptions are often the domain of Google or their pharmacy, viewing lab reports is an area that can fall firmly in the domain of the provider, and a clear indicator that empowered patients are looking for modern ways to engage with physicians about their care and results,” the report authors wrote.

When it comes to actually consulting a physician, there was disparity across gender and age. When asked what healthcare related activities they did online, 26 percent of men reported they use virtual care today while only 14 percent of women responded the same. Not surprisingly, virtual care showed a stark contrast across age demographics, with only 3 percent of respondents aged 55+ indicating they do this online, while 34 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds indicated they receive virtual care online today.

“New technology designed for the mobile-first, internet age is opening opportunities for healthcare organizations. Providers should review the technology they are using to engage with patients, from medical records to diagnostic imaging. They need to leverage patient portals, make medical imaging easily accessible, add online second opinion programs, and implement virtual care offerings to differentiate services, incur patient loyalty, and increase patient satisfaction,” the report authors wrote.

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by David Raths, Contributing Editor
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Developers could use the server to quickly ingest and manage FHIR datasets in the cloud

Microsoft Healthcare has announced the release of an open source project, FHIR Server for Azure, to offer developers access to software that supports the exchange and management of data in the cloud via the FHIR specification.

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