Patient access to medical records has not improved

Only slightly more than half of individuals were offered access to their online medical record last year, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). The percentage of individuals offered this access did not change from 2017 (52%), revealing that efforts to make medical records more available to better engage patients in their care might not be taking hold.

Greater access to patient health records is a major goal by CMS Administrator Seema Verma, who helped launch MyHealthEData last year. Making patient health information more easily accessible was also a goal outlined in the 21st Century Cures Act.

More recently, CMS proposed requiring all health plans in Medicare, Medicaid and through the public exchanges to share health information with patients through mobile apps by 2020. This information would be free and easy to access under the rule. ONC issued a data brief on access to medical records using the Health Information Trends Survey (HINTS) to highlight the needs the proposal intends to meet.

“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,” ONC stated in the brief.

In 2018, 30% of individuals were offered access and viewed their online medical record at least once within the past year, while 21% were offered access but did not view their record. That compares to 27% of people who had access and viewed their record at least once in 2017 and 24% who had access and did not view it. From 2017 to 2018 there was also no difference in the frequency of viewing online medical records, ONC found. Just about 10% of people who were offered access to their medical record viewed their data six or more times.

People typically viewed their medical records to fulfill a duty, such as sending their record to an outside provider, requesting medical refills, fill out forms related to healthcare or simply monitoring their health.

The findings come as more individuals are using smartphones to access health records, with about half of smartphone or tablet owners using a health or wellness app to track progress toward a health-related goal in 2018.

Interestingly, the spread of who was offered access to and viewed their medical records had several distinctions. For example, those with incomes of $75,000 or more annually were more likely to be offered access and view their online record compared to those with lower incomes. The same was true with those who went to the doctor at least once within the past year, had at least a college degree or had a chronic health condition.

Despite a greater push to enable patients to look at their records online and through mobile apps, about 75% of individuals said they would rather speak with their healthcare provider instead of using their online medical record. Fortunately, fewer people said they didn’t have a way to access their medical record in 2018 compared to 2017.

See the full briefing here.