Consumer Use of Online Medical Records Has Plateaued

For several years now, CMS has worked to get patients interested in and engaged with the contents of their medical records. Most recently, this has included an effort asking consumers for stories on how accessible their medical information is, as part and parcel of the agency’s MyHealthEData initiative.

Despite all of this work, however, recent data suggests that consumer interest has plateaued over the last couple of years, with what seems to be a substantial number seeing little value in accessing such data for themselves.

According to a new report released this month by ONC, the rate at which individuals access their medical records, as well as the frequency of viewing, remained flat throughout 2017 and 2018.

In the past, many consumers cited privacy and security concerns as their reasons for not viewing their online medical record. For example, 66% of individuals surveyed in 2017 said they were worried about unauthorized access and health information that was electronically exchanged. However, the number of consumers worried about privacy and security fell substantially during 2018, ONC said.

The ONC Data Brief reports that about half of individuals were provided with online access to their medical record last year, and of this group, 58% viewed the record at least once within the past year. This means that about three in ten individuals did so.

Still, growth in consumer uptake remains slow. While the number of consumers using online medical records to download health information and to fill out paperwork increased, the use of other functionalities by individuals was similar to 2017.

The top reasons cited by those who didn’t view their online medical record included a preference to communicate directly with their providers was better than pouring over the record and their sense that they didn’t need to do so, ONC said.

Being up to date with care seems to be another factor in which consumers have engaged with their health data. Individuals who had a doctor’s visit in the past year are two times as likely to be offered access to their online medical record of those who had gone more than a year. Also, consumers with higher income educational levels were more likely to be offered access to later view their online medical record.

Meanwhile, mobile access to medical records seems to be increasingly important in engaging consumers. Among the individuals in 2018 who had a smartphone or tablet, about half had a health or wellness app on the device, and three-quarters of those app users track progress on their health-related goals. Not only that, roughly half of users leverage them to make treatment-related decisions.

The Data Brief authors note that one way to further engage individuals in using their online medical data is to make it easier to use apps to access, view and share that data. Through its proposed rule, ONC is hoping to see providers do so by offering patient health information through APIs.

In the meantime, it seems likely that consumers will need to be taught how to make the best use of their data and encouraged to use those skills once they obtain them. Otherwise, it might be quite some time before we can build enough momentum to bring both consumers online with their records.

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.