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Patient Access to Health Data, Portal Access Surges to 92%

A recent AHA Trend Report shows massive improvements in patient portal use, boosting patient access to health data.

By Sara Heath

- According to an American Hospital Association Trend Watch report, data exchange over electronic tools like patient portals and EHRs is on an upswing, boosting patient and provider communication and access to health data.

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In the report, AHA focuses on three elements of patient access to health data, including access to digital health records, ability to complete routine tasks online, and ability to digitally connect with providers.

Nearly all patients are now able to view their medical records online, with 92 percent of them reporting such. This is likely due to the rise of the patient portal and its requirements in federal incentive programs like meaningful use and MACRA.

This is a considerable upswing from just two years ago, when only 43 percent of patients could view their medical records online.

Eighty four percent of patients were also able to download this data in 2015, an improvement from 2013 when only 30 percent could do the same. Further, 70 percent of patients could send this data to a third party in 2015, while only 13 percent could do so in 2013.

READ MORE: Why Interoperability is Vital to Patient Access to Health Data

Digital health tools are making an impact in other areas of healthcare, too, with patients being able to complete routine tasks over a patient portal or similar tools.

Seventy four percent of patients reported paying bills over their portal, an upswing from 2013 when only 56 percent of patients did the same.

Tasks like scheduling appointments or refilling prescriptions saw more modest improvement. The number of patients scheduling appointments online jumped only 15 percent over the two years, from 31 percent in 2013 to 45 percent in 2015.

Prescription refill followed a similar trajectory, with 30 percent of patients doing so in 2013 and only 44 percent reporting the same in 2015.

Digital communication with providers also continues to grow, but at a slower pace. In 2015, 63 percent of patients reported that they secure message with their providers, compared to 55 percent of patients in 2014. AHA’s report included no data from 2013 on this subject.

READ MORE: ONC Awards Winners in Patient Health Data Access App Contest

Contribution of patient-generated health data, while still limited, had significant growth over the course of the past year. In 2013 only 14 percent of patients were able to contribute their own health data, and only 30 percent in 2014. Come 2015, 37 percent of individuals were adding their patient-generated health data to their patient portal or EHR.

Overall, AHA says these statistics show an upturn in patient engagement strategies over digital technologies. Specifically, it shows a general trend toward allowing patients access to their own health data.

“Hospitals are offering individuals more electronic access to their medical information than ever before,” the organization concluded in its report.

“Patients also have a growing ability to interact with their providers and to perform routine tasks online. As more hospitals are able to offer these services, individuals will have more insight into their medical data and the ability to interact with care providers at times and in ways that are convenient for the patient.”

This is good news, considering the emphasis industry experts put on providing patients access to their health data to increase patient engagement.

READ MORE: CommonWell Allows Patients to Access Individual Health Data

Research from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology shows that patients appreciate this kind of access, with 81 percent of patients finding the data in their medical records useful.

Expert opinion suggests the same.

At VCU Health, providers have surveyed patients about their satisfaction with health data access, finding that a majority of patients like being able to view their data over the portal.

“In fact, 80 percent of people said that it helps them take better care of themselves,” said Susan Wolver, MD, in a past interview. “So that’s unbelievable. Eighty-five percent of the people who knew their notes were there are actually looking at their notes.”

This access helps patients stay on top of their care, participate with their providers, and help coordinate some of their care as well, making them critical partners in the care team.

“So who better for patient safety than the patients themselves to own that data to help to keep themselves safe?” Wolver, who is also an associate professor of internal medicine at VCU, said. “There’s so many things that I have to do during a visit, it’s like a juggling act. And I want the patients involved in that juggling act to help keep them safe.”

Given Wolver’s experiences with high patient engagement over patient portals, it will be ideal if adoption rates continue their upward trajectory. Going forward, patient-centered care and patient engagement will improve if an increasing number of patients are able to access their care and participate in care decisions.

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