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Accessing medical records improves patient care, but only 10% of patients do so

Use was disproportionately low across all hospital types, suggesting there's more hospitals could be doing to get more people to use the record.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Despite the numerous benefits associated with patients accessing their medical records, a study published in Health Affairs found only 10% of patients utilize the resource.

Researchers expected to find inequities in use and access -- in theory, driven by existing digital disparities, those who don't use English as a first-language or communities without access to reliable internet services.

But they were surprised to find that use is unilaterally low. More than 95% of patients recently discharged from a hospital had access to electronic records, but use was disproportionately low across all hospital types, suggesting there's more hospitals could be going to get more people to use the record.

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WHAT'S THE IMPACT

Hospitals are financially incentivized by the federal government through the Promoting Interoperability Program to offer patients electronic records -- but only one patient needs to access those records to qualify for continued funding, meaning providers aren't required to actively recruit people to use them.

Patient use, however, has its benefits, with patient engagement affecting their quality of care and outcomes. Patients who are more engaged in their own care, particularly after a hospitalization, are better able to communicate with providers and have better follow-up care.

As a consequence, the chance of readmission is lower, which can have positive reimbursement implications for hospitals, as they're penalized by the federal government for below-average 30-day readmission rates.

The paper also speaks to the larger dynamic shift that's occurring within hospital systems. Many systems are exploring supplemental care options to improve patients' outcomes, including food security, housing and drug addiction assistance programming outside the hospital. Offering additional services goes beyond just providing care; focusing on patient engagement is one facet of the larger picture.

The doctor-patient relationship determined whether or not the patient would actually use the record. Although doctors are expected to do more and more, patient engagement is still key to success, and trusting a provider will further encourage patients to access their records,the authors said.

THE LARGER TREND

Most technology executives polled in the U.S. are relatively unfamiliar with a key federal law requiring greater patient access to healthcare records and the interoperability of such records across health networks, according to October research findings from Accenture.

At the center of the 21st Century Cures Act, which became law as H.R. 34 in 2016, are new regulations designed to help drive increased efficiency and transparency in healthcare through a variety of measures, including preventing information blocking and expanding how patients can access their healthcare information. Organizations that do not comply with the new regulations -- which apply to essentially any organization handling patient medical records -- could face substantial penalties.

Fewer than one in five (18%) of the executives surveyed in key leadership positions at U.S. healthcare companies said they are "very familiar" with the new regulations, while 17% said they are completely unaware of it. Around 53% said they are "somewhat familiar" with 12% "vaguely familiar."

2019 was the year of the patient

Since February, when CMS Administrator Seema Verma said patients needed immediate access to their health records, the hits have just kept on coming.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com