Patients Concerned With EHR Data Safety, Survey Finds

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite a general trust in doctors using electronic health records and support for health information technology, a recent study found that consumers have persistent concerns that data breaches will occur.

The study, commissioned by the National Partnership for Women & Families — a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, non-partisan advocacy group aimed at promoting fairness in the workplace and equal access to quality health care — set out to examine consumer views on health information technology, with research directed by Alan Westin, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Columbia University.

The study, conducted by New York-based research firm Harris Interactive, comes at a time of transition to electronic health records, which health care providers can receive incentive funds for under provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Conducted from Aug. 3 to Aug. 22 with 1,961 adults in the respondent pool, the survey was funded by the Commonwealth Fund, Merck & Co., Inc., WellPoint, Inc. and the California HealthCare Foundation.

"We fielded this survey now, in the early stages of the transformation to EHRs, to assess consumer views and to measure whether the ways doctors and hospitals are using them is what patients want and need," said Christine Bechtel, vice president at the National Partnership and patient and family representative on the federal Health Information Technology Policy Committee. "For health IT to deliver on its promise, consumers must support it.”

Bechtel said that while the findings were encouraging, consumer support is necessary to navigate through “potential landmines,” including political pressure to repeal the incentives.

"This survey draws attention to a critical, but sometimes overlooked, facet of health information technology — patients and their families need to be at the center of efforts to modernize health care’s information infrastructure," said Dr. Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator for health information technology with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Titled “Making IT Meaningful: How Consumers Value and Trust Health IT,” surveyed respondents who had an ongoing relationship with a care provider and knew whether the provider uses an electronic or paper record system.

The study found that regardless of the form of health records, patients saw the value in EHRs, with 88 to 97 percent of those whose doctors use EHRS responding that EHRs are or would be useful for elements of health care like timely access to information and communication. In patients whose doctors use paper medical records, 80 to 97 percent said EHRs would be useful.

Just six percent of respondents whose doctors use EHRs reported dissatisfaction, according to the study, while three in four respondents whose doctors use paper records said it would be valuable if their doctors adopted EHRs.

One in four respondents who had online access to their medical records were more supportive of health information technology than those who did not, and reported being more trusting of doctors to protect their privacy.

The survey sampled Hispanic adults and found that while those whose doctors use EHRs were significantly more likely than others to see them as valuable in helping them personally in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, understanding their health conditions and keeping up with their medications, they were also more likely to report having experienced a data breach and to worry that more widespread adoption of EHRs will lead to even more such breaches.

Mostashari said that while the survey showed patients saw value in the power of electronic health records in improving care, respondents also said the success of advanced health care information technology requires vigilant protection.

"At a time when America’s taxpayers have made such a large investment in the implementation of health IT, we have an obligation to use their dollars wisely and get this right," the National Partnership’s Bechtel said. "Amplifying the voices of consumers is key to success."

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