Consumers Hungry For Online Health Data Access

We may be at a major tipping point, folks. It seems that consumers are becoming eager to interact with both their doctors and their health data online, after years of fear and disinterest.  In fact, it seems that doctors  may be lagging behind.

A new survey from Optum Institute, a part of health insurer UnitedHealth’s Optum division, took a look at attitudes across several major stakeholder groups, including 1,000 physicians, 2,870 U.S. adults and 400 U.S. executives.

Optum found that three out of four patients were interested in accessing their health records online through EMRs, and more th an 60 percent wanted to connect with doctors via e-mail or other Internet vehicles.

And that’s not all. According a summary of the study in MedCityNews:

  • 76 percent of patients are willing to go online to view test results
  • 65 percent want appointment reminders via email
  • 62 percent of patients want to communicate online with their primary care physician

Meanwhile, physicians don’t seem to be keeping up. Only 40 percent of physicians said they had the ability to allow patient EMR access or communicate securely via the Internet.

Why such a gap? Apparently, many of the doctors Optum surveyed have only basic EMRs in place which don’t support patient data access or communication.  For example, only 46 percent of physicians’ EMRs offer patient-specific information to help them make decisions and manage their health.

It’s hard to tell from a survey like this whether patients merely like the idea of greater connectivity, or are ready to insist that their doctors get on board.  So I wouldn’t go out on a limb at this point and suggest that doctors will lose patients if they don’t get their EMRs souped up quickly.

This does suggest, however, that when physicians make patient data access easier and begin to communicate online, they’ll certainly make some new fans.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • We have to be a little careful with the data from this. I think there’s also a divide in how many would like access to their records and how many would actually use it. Many want that ability, but would only use it when rare occasion required it.

    The access to the physician by email is the better number and something we should solve. No doubt a lot of patients will be very happy to have this feature. The problem is finding a way to compensate the doctor for this communication.

  • John
    True, but…

    We must use encrypted email to communicate with patients and our hospital has found that close to 50% are never opened. Patients think this direction to another website is fishing, or are too frustrated or do not bother.

    Patient portals are used less than 20% of the time and are very cumbersome to get past security.

    I think this will not work until the securityis made transparent. Right now, it is a barrier.

  • Kevin,
    Those are some really interesting numbers. I can see the challenge. I guess the question I’d ask is whether those emails are physician communication or if they’re other healthcare communication. Plus, maybe I misspoke by calling it email. I think patients want an electronic connection with the physician. Not sure if email, text, a portal, etc are the right method for that interaction.

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