More Docs, Fewer Patients Think EHRs are Safer than Paper

November 8, 2011

It’s no surprise patients have their reservations about electronic medical records. How fast will that change?

EHRs are becoming more common in physician practices, indicating that physicians have a greater level of trust in technology. But are they being perceived as a trustworthy way to collect patient data? If you ask patients, the answer is still usually no, according to a recent survey conducted by GfK Roper for EHR vendor Practice Fusion. 

According to an online survey of more than 1,200 medical records, 54 percent of physicians agreed that EHRs are safer than paper records. Of those, 36 percent say EHRs are more secure because they’re less likely to be hacked or lost than paper records.

And of physicians who said EHRs are safer, access to records when needed was checked off as the top benefit by 63 percent of respondents.

Of the more than 1,000 adults ages 18 and older surveyed separately, 47 percent believe that paper is safer, and 39 percent said they believe EHRs are safer. It’s interesting, considering these were online surveys patients were answering, not paper ones.

It’s no surprise patients have their reservations about electronic medical records. The question is, how quickly will that change over time? Will more patients embrace electronic medical records as they get used to seeing their physicians using them?

If recent patient-data breach news is any indication of trust, it might take some time, say experts.

Recently, in August, Stanford Hospital & Clinics in California made news when it confirmed that a medical privacy breach caused data on more than 20,000 of its patients to be publicly posted to a commercial website a year ago.

While no practice can 100 percent guarantee against breaches, knowing which are the most common is helpful in preventing them.

According to HHS' “Annual Report to Congress on Breaches of Unsecured Protected Health Information,” 5.4 million people were affected by health-related data breaches in 2010. The biggest culprits were theft, loss of electronic media or paper records containing protected health information; unauthorized access to, use, or disclosure of protected health information; human error; and improper disposal. In comparison to 2009, in 2010, the number of individuals affected by the loss of electronic media or paper records was greater than those affected by unauthorized access or human error.

Even though data breaches might make patients reluctant to see doctors using EHRs (or some doctors reluctant to use EHRs), Robert Rowley, a physician and Practice Fusion’s medical director, said he believes he’ll see a change soon.

“With more education about why EHRs are safer than paper charts,” he said, “we’ll see even more physicians switching from paper and patients demanding a digital solution.”