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Patient Access to Health Data, Patient Portal Use Increases

Patient access to health data is more widespread across the industry, with 80 percent of patients using the patient portal and 90 percent of patients obtaining record copies free of charge.

patient access to health data patient portal

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Patient access to health data is becoming a lot easier, but according to experts from AHIMA there is still some work to be done.

In a survey presented at AHIMA’s 89th Annual Convention & Exhibit, researchers discussed the growing prevalence of patients accessing their own health data, specifically via health IT and patient portals.

Patient portal and health technology use truly emerged in the industry following the 2009 HITECH Act, the research team said. As these tools have become mainstays in healthcare, it is prudent for leaders to understand patient perspectives of engagement and health data access technologies.

“Satisfaction with portal use by both providers and patients is a needed attribute for portals to succeed,” the researchers wrote in a report accompanying their presentation. “Studies indicate mixed results on patient satisfaction. This finding is of concern because satisfaction is an important driver of portal use and acceptance.”

The team conducted a 12-question survey of over 150 healthcare consumers to uncover answers to three broad-reaching questions:

  • Are consumers requesting and receiving access to their health records?
  • What costs are associated with health record requests?
  • What is the level of usage and satisfaction with patient portals and PHRs?

The survey revealed that more patients are accessing their own health data via the patient portal, with 82 percent of patients saying they have logged into their provider’s patient portal at least once. That number is up from a similar 2013 survey, when fewer than 5 percent of patients had access their patient portal.

Thirty-five percent of patients said they use the portal to view lab results, 22 percent to request appointments, 19 percent to request medication refills, and 19 percent to secure message with providers.

Patients who did not use the portal reported a general disinterest for managing their own health records or uncertainty about how to use the portal. Many patients said they couldn’t log into the portal, they found the portal lacking navigability, or were overburdened with patient portal emails and reminders.

The survey also revealed that it’s getting easier for patients to access their own medical information. In 2016, only 10 percent of patients were charged for obtaining a copy of their medical records, a considerable reduction from 65 percent of patients in the 2013 survey.

Of the 10 percent of patients who were charged a health record copying fee, half were charged between $5 and $10. Ten percent of patients paid less than $5, and 40 percent of patients paid up to $25.

“Cost reductions are to be expected as more facilities move to EHR systems, whereby the cost of providing consumers with copies of their medical records is reduced,” the researchers posited.

The team also predicted that more patients will become aware of HITECH and HIPAA provisions and demand fair prices for medical records access.

The survey administrators also looked at trends in personal health record (PHR) upkeep, finding that just about half (49 percent) of patients maintain a PHR in either electronic or paper form. Most patients keep a mix of paper and electronic records, while some kept all paper records and only a few kept all electronic records.

Although these results point to an uptick in patient data access and technology use, the survey authors said it also points to a larger path forward for healthcare professionals.

“Providing individuals with access to their health information is necessary in delivering high quality care,” said Kim Murphy-Abdouch, MPH, RHIA, FACHE, clinical associate professor of health information management at Texas State University. “With the age of technology, healthcare providers and health information management professionals must adapt to accommodate the increase in demand for PHIs, both electronic and paper.”

“Although we have seen a dramatic improvement in patient engagement with their PHI, there is always room for improvement,” added AHIMA interim CEO Pamela Lane, MS, RHIA. “Health information management professionals have an obligation to continue to assist patients and others in accessing and maintaining their own personal health record.”

Healthcare professionals and health information managers should develop a set strategy for fostering patient data access and portal usage, the report said.

“Looking forward, a recent Federal Trade Commission report urges healthcare organizations to develop best practices related to ‘Internet of things’ devices,” the report concluded. “As more consumers access their personal health information electronically, privacy and security concerns will become paramount for HIM professionals.”

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