Patients call for greater access to EHR systems

With meaningful use fully in the attestation period for stage 2, health care professionals are getting an early look at how comprehensive use of the technology can affect diagnoses and treatments. Stage 1 may have set the groundwork for EHRs to fulfill the promise that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made for the technology when the agency began the meaningful use program. Guarantees of greater analytical prowess and easier access to medical records are now being realized for physicians.

However, patients have yet to participate in a similar way as their physicians in the development of EHR systems. Even though the technology has made medical information easier to compile and share with other health organizations, patients have yet to be included in this flow of data. According to a survey by Accenture, the majority of patients want access to their personal medical information stored in EHRs regardless of the security risks that this may pose to their online medical identities.

Extending access to all
The health care industry, the CMS and other federal agencies have yet to codify cogent regulations for securing sensitive patient information stored in EHRs, but this has not affected the way that patients feel about the technology. To arrive at its findings, Accenture surveyed 918 healthy patients and 1,093 with chronic conditions such as asthma, arthritis, depression, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

More than half of the patients with chronic conditions – 51 percent – said that the potential benefits of being able to access their medical information in EHR systems outweigh the security threats currently facing the technology. Moreover, regardless of their medical status, 66 percent indicated that they have the right to access their own personal medical data in EHRs.

The survey's findings indicate a health care industry that has been quick to adopt and implement the technology for its own purposes, but not for those of its patients. An overwhelming majority of respondents – 87 percent – said that they want control over their EHR profiles, but 55 percent admitted that they only had some or any access to the systems at all.

Kaveh Safavi, M.D., director of global health at Accenture, believes that the industry must make great changes to respond to these new patient demands.

"Health care will need to adapt to a new generation of individuals who are taking a more proactive role in managing their health and expect to have transparency," Safavi said in a statement. "As consumers continue to demand more access to their personal data online, we expect that patients will gain more power to manage some aspects of their own care."

Rising tide of health IT
It may be natural for health care IT executives to be skeptical about opening access to EHR systems to a wider population. Modern security strategies for health IT networks often focus on monitoring and limiting the number of people who can log in to a network. If only physicians can access certain pieces of information, the threat of accidental or intention breach from a lower level employee is ostensibly reduced.

However, according to a report from the American Hospital Association, the health care industry has also made great progress in the form of sharing patient data with hospitals outside native networks. In 2013, 62 percent of hospitals in the U.S. sent and received medical information to and from facilities outside of their system. This is a 51 percent increase in the interoperability of data since 2008.

If hospitals can facilitate intra-industry communication in such a short amount of time, they may be able to turn their network capabilities toward patients.