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ONC Report Reveals Trends in Access and Viewing of Medical Records Online

Most hospitals and physicians have now adopted electronic medical records, yet only half of patients have been offered access to their medical records online, according to a new report from the HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

Two of the aims of the 21st Century Cures Act were to make it easier for patents to access their health information and to improve education of patients about their rights to access their health data. The ONC conducted its Health Information Trends Survey (HINTS) to determine whether patients are being offered access to their medical records online and whether they have exercised that right and have viewed medical records that have been made available.

In 2018, there was no change in the number of patients being offered access to their medical records online. As was the case in 2017, 51% of patients were given that opportunity. However, the number of patients using that access to view or download their medical records increased. 30% of patients who were given the option had viewed their records at least once, compared to 27% in 2017.

Individuals who visited their doctor at least once in the past 12 months were twice as likely to be offered access to their medical records online than those who did not. They were also more than 50% more likely to exercise that right and access their medical records than patients who had not visited their doctor in the past 12 months.

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Out of the patients who did view their medical records online, 29% viewed records 1 or 2 times, 19% viewed their records between 3 and 5 times, and 11% accessed their records 6 or more times. The number of patients who downloaded their medical records was a third higher than in 2017.

Individuals with chronic conditions were more likely to be offered access to their medical records online, as were individuals with at least a college degree, and individuals with a family income of $75,000 or higher.

When asked about the reasons why they chose not to view their medical records online, the findings were largely similar to 2017. The main reason was patients preferred to speak to their healthcare provider directly (73%) and patients did not have a need to view their medical records (65%).

There were two significant changes. There was a decrease in the number of individuals who said they did not access their records out of privacy and security concerns, falling from 25% in 2017 to 14% in 2018. There was also a fall from 20% to 10% in individuals who said they did not have a way of accessing the Internet.

Americans do appear to be taking a greater interest in their health. There has been an increase in the number of individuals using health and wellness apps. 49% of respondents said they used such an app on a smartphone or tablet and one third of individuals said they use an electronic monitoring device such as a Fitbit-type device, blood pressure monitoring device, or blood glucose monitor.

75% of individuals who use an app do so to track progress toward a health-related goal. 48% use the apps to make decisions about illnesses or health conditions, and 45% use the apps to discuss their health with their providers.  The number of individuals who shared health information with a healthcare professional electronically via their smartphone or tablet increased from 26% to 28%.

“Making it easier for individuals to use apps to access, view, and subsequently share their online medical record data may enable individuals to better manage their health and address gaps in interoperability,” explained ONC. ONC’s interoperability Rule, published in February, will make it even easier for patients to access and use their health data through the use of APIs.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.