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ONC Highlights 3 Barriers to Patients Accessing Their EHR Data

News  |  By Marie DeFreitas  
   January 04, 2024

The use of EHRs has grown substantially over the last decade, but patients still face problems getting to their health data

EHRs may be commonplace in healthcare, but that doesn’t mean everyone can access them, according to a new report from the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

Now that patients have had a taste for easy access to their health records, they’re demanding more. During the pandemic, patients wanted access to their records following a telehealth visit and to obtain COVID 19 test results. More patients also wanted to message their providers following the pandemic, at a rate of 53% in 2018, and climbing up to 64% in 2022.

Healthcare apps have made access to records even easier, and by 2022 more than half of patients were using apps to access their EHR data. They were also looking at their records more frequently than web-based portal users. In 2020 the ONC’s Cures Final Rule Act required certified health IT developers to create broader patient access through apps with standards-based application programming interfaces (APIs).

According to the ONC, healthcare organizations are seeing three barriers to patients being able to access their data:

Not All Apps Are Created Equal

Currently, a majority of patients are not using emerging third-party apps that have adopted APIs; Instead, they’re using apps provided by their healthcare provider or an online patient portal. APIs make information more widely available across smartphone apps, and they do so in a more secure method than other apps and web-based portals. By encouraging patients to use these API based apps, healthcare providers can ensure their patients are easily accessing their data in the most secure manner.

But What Does It Mean?

Another problem with EHR technology is that they don’t offer detailed explanations of diagnoses or test results. Patients may have access to their health records, but that doesn’t mean they understand them, especially complicated diagnoses. Research shows that patients like having timely access to their test results on their patient portal, rather than waiting for a call from their doctor. Going forward, health IT developers will need to monitor this and evolve the technology to add more context for patients.

Disparities and Barriers

Lastly, certain populations still face barriers to accessing their medical records. There are “disparities in patient access by race and ethnicity, education, income, and other socio-demographic factors,” according to a study by the Health and Human Service Department’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. Other barriers include internet access, health literacy, and language. Although the ONC provides resources for patients to access and manage their health records through different methods, this issue persists.

The healthcare industry’s rocky relationship with EHRs will continue as long as patients have problems accessing their information. Providers need to step up and take action to ensure all patients have access to, understand, and can manage their health records

Marie DeFreitas is an associate content specialist at HealthLeaders.


With most healthcare organizations now using electronic health records, more patients are asking to communicate electronically with their providers and access health information.

Spurred by the pandemic, many are communicating through apps.

According to the ONC, health systems need to improve their EHR platforms to enable patients to easily access their data.

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