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Online Medical Record Access Not Possible for the Majority of Patients

A recent survey commissioned by personal clinical engagement platform vendor, HealthMine, indicates patients are still finding it difficult to gain online access to their healthcare data, even though the majority of healthcare providers store healthcare data in digital form. 2013 data suggest that 78% of healthcare providers use EHRs and could therefore conceivably provide online access patient medical data.

The recent survey was conducted on 502 consumers that intended to enroll in a 2016 health plan. The survey took place between October and November, 2015.

The results of that survey show that over half of consumers (53%) do not yet have online access to their medical records, and almost a third (32%) of Americans have difficulty accessing their medical records.

31% of respondents indicated they have trouble accessing biometric information, 29% said they struggled to gain access to lab records and insurance information. A quarter of respondents had trouble accessing their prescription history.

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74% of Americans believe that having access to all of their clinical notes and medical records would help improve communication with their healthcare provider, and would help them to understand more about their own health. 60% of respondents were not sure if they had access to all of their medical records.

A previous survey indicates as many as 65% of consumers who are not currently allowed online access to their medical records said that they thought it was important to have online access. Furthermore, that study indicated that when access to medical records is provided, 8 out of 10 patients use their access rights and view their own medical data.

Not All Healthcare Professionals Believe Patients Should Have Direct Access to their Medical Records

While many patients believe they are entitled to gain access to all information stored in their EHRs, as well as notes made by physicians, that point of view is not shared by many healthcare professionals.

While there is no question that data must be provided to patients under HIPAA, many feel that the information stored in EHRs would not actually benefit the patient if it was accessed. In fact, it may cause patients to suffer stress or anxiety as a result. Some physicians believe that patients would view their medical records and demand to receive further medical services or examinations which are unnecessary. Physicians have enough difficulty dealing with patients that have been overactive on Google and health websites.

Direct Access to Clinical Notes Offers Many Advantages

Some healthcare organizations believe that the provision of direct access to medical records and clinical notes will help to empower patients and get them to take greater interest in their own health. A joint $10-million initiative launched by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Peterson Center on Healthcare, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Cambia Health Foundation, aims to give 50 million U.S. healthcare patients online access to their clinical notes.  It is believed that by allowing patients easy access to their healthcare information they will be more active in their own healthcare. As a direct result, patient outcomes can be improved and the cost of healthcare provision can be reduced.

Jan Walker, RN, MBA, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and co-founder of the OpenNotes movement, believes the benefits of providing patients with access to their medical notes far outweigh the negatives. She recently said, “Our research shows increasingly that patients can benefit greatly from reading the notes taken during a medical visit. They tell us they feel more in control of their care and are more likely to follow up on recommendations.”

According to Bryce Williams, CEO and President of HealthMine, “We should be long beyond the days where one doctor holds the chart and we don’t get to see it—but we’re not.”

HIPAA and Online Access to Medical Records

Under the HIPAA Privacy Rule healthcare providers must supply patients with a copy of their medical records on request; however, HIPAA Rules do not stipulate that patients be provided with online access to their healthcare data. Patients may want online access to their data, but healthcare providers are under no obligation to provide it.

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.