- Patient access to health data is continuously increasing, but there is still more opportunity for medical professionals to encourage better patient engagement with their own health data, according to a new ONC data brief about patient technology use.
The data brief used information from the National Cancer Institute’s 2017 Health Information Trends Survey. The ONC researchers looked at patient EHR use trends, patient portal uptake, digital health and mHealth adoption, and use of wearable mHealth technology.
The analysis showed that patient engagement with health technology has increased from previous years.
Fifty-two percent of patients were offered access to their medical records in 2017, which is up from 42 percent of patients in 2014, the data showed.
Over half of the patients offered patient portal access viewed their own medical records, which translates to 28 percent of the total survey population.
Twenty four percent of patients did not view their online medical records, even after being granted access to them. Reasons for not viewing patient health records included:
- Wanting to speak with providers in person (76)
- Limited perceived need to view medical records (59 percent)
- Privacy concerns (25 percent)
- No avenue to access the website (20 percent)
- No longer having an online medical record (19 percent)
Providers played a big role in prompting a patient to view her own medical record. Sixty-three percent of patients who viewed their medical records were encouraged to do so by their providers. Only 38 percent of patients who viewed their medical records took the initiative on their own.
Patient portals are continuing to incorporate a number of patient-facing functions that experts say can help patients manage their own health. Nearly all (92 percent) of patient portals allow patients to view lab results, while 79 percent offer updated medication lists, 76 percent show visit summaries, and 70 percent display problem lists.
Sixty percent of patient portals offer access to allergy lists, 55 percent show immunization or vaccination history, and 51 percent show clinician notes.
Although patient portals are giving patients an expanded view of their own health, patients are still only using a handful of these functions.
Overwhelmingly, patients use the portal to view their lab results (85 percent). Sixty-two percent of patients are also using the tool for more clinical tasks, such as scheduling appointments, completing paperwork, and refilling prescriptions.
Only 14 percent of patients are using the portal to transmit medical records to another provider, despite federal calls for patients to be in charge of health data sharing.
These functions are proving useful for 82 percent of patients, the report noted. These patients stated that the patient portal was both easy to understand and helpful in managing in their own health. Five percent of patients said the record was both difficult to understand and not useful.
Those patients likely did not perceive the record as useful because they could not understand it. Patient portal developers and the clinicians who use them should ensure that this information is accessible, understandable, and written in lay language where applicable.
Patient caregivers are also seeing the utility in patient portals. Eighteen percent of individuals accessing a digital medical record are some sort of medical caregiver for a patient. Twenty-five percent of all caregivers viewed a medical record for a client, child, or other family member.
Patients are also engaging with their own health using digital health tools. One-third of patients use an electronic device to monitor their health, including fitness wearables and blood pressure monitors. Forty percent of patients use a wellness app on their smartphones or tablets.
Overall, 84 percent of patients said they own either a smartphone or tablet, highlighting the promise of mobile apps in engaging patients in their own care. These statistics certainly open doors for wellness apps that monitor patient health, and also create opportunities for mobile patient portal apps that may be more accessible than browser versions of the tool.
Increases in patient engagement with digital health may be the result of the many federal pushes to place healthcare in the hands of the patient. Meaningful use, the 21st Century Cures Act, and MACRA’s Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) also include provisions calling for more patient engagement with their own health data.
These programs have also sought to allow patients to send their own medical information to other providers and to use that data to make informed decisions about their own care.
“Online access to medical records, such as through patient portals, enable patients and caregivers to access their health information,” the ONC report concluded. “Mobile health apps and devices connected to a providers’ electronic health record system using open application programming interfaces (APIs) will also allow individuals to collect, manage, and share their health information.”