Patients Warming Up to EHRs, But Privacy Concerns Remain

March 5, 2012

Patients have definite opinions about EHRs, technology security, and other related subjects.

There’s been so much talk about how providers can comply with CMS’ “meaningful use” rules for its EHR incentive program. But often those most impacted by the rules are overlooked. 

Yes, we’re talking about patients.

But in a report recently released by National Partnership for Women & Families, based on an August 2011 online survey of 1,961 adults with a primary-care physician, how patients view healthcare technology took center stage. And, as it turns out, patients have definite opinions about EHRs, technology security, and other related subjects.

Fifty-nine percent of patient respondents to the survey, commissioned by the Partnership and conducted by Harris Interactive, said their doctor uses an EHR, while 41 percent said their physician usually uses paper.

Among the key findings that support the case for using an EHR:

Patients, regardless of whether their provider uses one, see value in EHRs. When asked about the extent to which they believe an EHR is or would be useful in accomplishing or improving upon seven key care elements, between 88 and 97 percent (depending on the particular care element) of EHR respondents (patients with EHR-enabled doctors) and between 80 and 97 percent of paper respondents (patients whose primary-care docs still use paper) said EHRs would be useful;


EHRs outpace paper on perceived impact on quality of care. Seventy-three percent of EHR respondents said their doctor’s use of an EHR has a very or somewhat positive impact on the overall quality of health care services;

Three out of four paper-system respondents want their doctor to adopt an EHR. However, researchers were sure to point out that these data don’t suggest that consumers connect EHR adoption to improved quality: Nearly one-third third of paper-system respondents are very satisfied and only 14 percent expressed dissatisfaction with their current system.

But even though more patients are, indeed, appreciating EHRs, there are growing concerns over privacy and security. Fifty-nine percent of EHR respondents and 66 percent of paper respondents said widespread adoption of EHR systems will lead to more personal information being lost or stolen.

Moreover, 51 percent of EHR and 53 percent of paper respondents believe the privacy of personal medical records and health information is not currently well protected by federal and state laws and organizational practices.

Researchers say these findings suggest significant uneasiness regarding the privacy and security of electronic systems. And although the issue isn’t about trusting providers (more than 90 percent of both paper and EHR respondents trust their doctors to protect health information), researchers believe patients are concerned with the capabilities of electronic systems and the possibility of increased data breaches.

Similarly, one of the challenges of getting health information exchanges (HIEs) up and running is concerns over privacy and security, InformationWeek’s Paul Cerrato recently wrote in an editorial.

“Perhaps the most thorny problem to solve in trying to get an HIE up and running is the public's fear that their medical data won't be safe,” Cerrato stated. “Given the number of well-publicized data breaches in the news recently, you can certainly understand their concern”