Technology Fears, Privacy Breaches Remain Barriers for EHR Use

Cheryl Clark, April 16, 2010

Even as healthcare providers and the federal government shell out billions to install health information technology systems, such as electronic medical records, many Americans have no idea what they are or how such computerization can benefit their care, according to a survey by Lake Research Partners for the California Healthcare Foundation.

The survey asked 56 questions to a representative sample of 1,849 adults across the country between Dec. 18 and Jan. 15.

For example, 40% of those sampled said they had not heard, and 7% weren't sure whether they'd heard about tools they could use at home to test blood pressure and blood sugar in a way they would automatically be sent to a doctor's office over the Internet. And 49% said they had not heard of Web sites where people can get, keep, and update their health information, such as lab test results, medications, and doctor's visits. Another 8% weren't sure.

Nearly 60% said they had not heard about the government putting money ($29 billion) toward helping doctors and hospital use health information technology. Another 18% weren't sure.

Only 26% said that they knew their doctor uses an electronic medical record to log their health histories, with 17% saying their doctor doesn't have that capability and 56% were unsure.

The findings may suggest that providers and government agencies that are paying for these systems might do more to educate patients about the usefulness of this technology.

The survey indicated that only 7%, or one in 14, who responded had used a personal health record (PHR). But the good news is that it's double the number who responded that way in a survey one year earlier, and those people who sued a PHR seemed to have a better awareness of their health status.

"This survey shows that when individuals have easy access to their health information, they pay greater attention to their health," said CHCF President and CEO Mark D. Smith, MD. "And for the first time, the survey documents that PHRs empower some people—including some of the heaviest users of the health system—to take better care of themselves."

For example, of those who said they used PHRs, 56% said it made them feel like they knew more about their health and 52% said they learned more about the kind of care they received from their doctor.

Between 38% and 40% said the PHR prompted them to ask their doctor a question they otherwise wouldn't have, and made them feel more connected to their doctor. One-third said it led them to improve their health.

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