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ONC Data Shows Disparities in Patient Access to Health Data

Patient access to health data depends on many factors, such as if a provider has an EHR or the level of education the patient has.

By Sara Heath

Although EHR adoption is becoming more widespread and patient access to health data has seen tremendous growth in the past few years, there are still disparities amongst different patient populations.

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In the ONC’s latest data brief, the agency looks at different patient populations and the frequency with which they access their own health data.

The findings, which were gleaned from 2014 data, shows that those who visit a physician with EHR technology are more likely to be offered access to their health information. Almost half (48 percent) of those whose providers had an EHR reported being offered health data access, compared to 15 percent of those whose physicians hadn’t adopted an EHR.

Those who visited a provider who had adopted an EHR were also more likely to email with their providers, to look at test results online, and use an online or smartphone app related to healthcare.

Socioeconomic status and level of education were also influential factors impacting whether providers offered patients access to their health information. Over half of respondents making $100,000 annually were offered access, while only 27 percent who made $25,000 annually were offered access. Similarly, those with more than a four-year college degree were more likely to be offered access than those with a high school diploma or GED.

Annual income and level of education also influenced the frequency with which patients would access their health information. Of those who were offered access to their health information, those making more than $50,000 annually were more likely to access their own health information, as were patients who had attained at least a two-year degree or had completed some college.

Ethnicity and proficiency in English also seemed to influence health information access rates. Patients who spoke English were far more likely to be offered access, as were non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, other multi-racial, and Asian patients.

Surprisingly, age had little effect on whether or not a patient accessed her medical records. Generally speaking, patients of all ages accessed their health information on various media at equal rates, except for patients over the age of 70, who notably did not access their health information digitally.

“There were no differences in rates of access to or the viewing of an online medical record by age,” ONC noted. “However, individuals 50 to 59 years of age had significantly higher rates of emailing or text-messaging health care providers, looking up test results online, and using smartphone health applications compared to individuals 70 years or older.”

Other recent research supports these findings.

Experts from athenaResearch have indicated that patients ages 65 and older and more eager to access their online patient portals, contrary to prior belief. One explanation for this could be that those who have become familiar with technology are starting to age into that patient population.

“If you look at patients in their 60s and up to 65, a lot of those patients are still in the workforce. They’ve had iPhones for 10 years since they were in their mid-50s,” explained David Clain, manager at athenaResearch. “So I think that a lot of those patients are comfortable with using technology, and a patient portal may be a new approach to working with their physicians in a way that they didn’t do before, but they’re comfortable getting online, they’re comfortable using their phones to get on a portal, or using a computer.”

Older patients are only one population, however. The ONC data shows that many others need more attention and more assistance in accessing health information. Through different programs, including OpenNotes, the Blue Button Initiative, and even patient engagement requirements in the EHR Incentive Programs, ideally more patients will receive access to their health data.