Most Americans don’t yet perceive the benefits of EHRs

Consider all the stakeholders with something to gain by moving from paper health records to digital electronic records. Who do you think would gain the most from EHRs, and who the least? A survey from Xerox finds that the among all the groups American adults say have the least to gain through EHRs is, the most common response is…patients.

29% of people aren’t really sure who’s to gain from moving to EHRs.

To better understand Americans’ views on electronic health records (EHRs), Xerox polled 2720 adults 18 and over in May 2011.

The topline finding is that 83% of people have concerns about digital medical records.  The most concerning issue is that “my” personal health information could be hacked, cited by two-thirds of people. The second most common concern is that  digital medical record files could be lost, damaged or corrupted (noted by 54%)  and that personal health information could be misused (52%). Another worry is that a power outage or computer problem could prevent providers from accessing health information, cited by 52% of people surveyed.

Only 16% of people surveyed said they’d been involved by their health provider (hospital, doctor, dentist) in converting their paper health records into digital format. This is only 2 percentage points higher than the number of people saying they’d been involved in the digital EHR conversion process last year.

Xerox asked people their perceptions about converting paper medical records to digital format: the most common shared perspective is that digital records could lead to better, more efficient care, cited by 42% of people. “I think it’s necessary,” was asserted by 37% of people, and “I want my medical records to be digital” was noted by 29% of people. 14% of people think paper records are prone to errors.

Interestingly, among people who are familiar with the conversion of paper to digital records, the consensus on these positive aspects is greater: for example, 51% of those familiar with EHRs say digital records will mean better, more efficient care compared with 42% of the general population. 45% see the move to EHRs is “necessary,” vs. 37% of the overall population.

On the less sanguine side of EHR perceptions, 1 in 4 people believe that moving to digital health records “seems like a huge undertaking that will be riddled with problems before it works well.” 17% of people simply aren’t familiar with the conversion of paper to digital records. And 12% of people say the prospect of moving from paper to digital records “frightens me.”

Xerox created the infographic summarizing the survey’s results, shown above,

Health Populi’s Hot Points: This survey reveals something important about peoples’ perceptions of the value of EHRs once they become familiar with the migration from paper records to digital: that more people see positive aspects of digital health records once they become familiar with the concept compared with people who aren’t acquainted with EHRs. This strongly suggests the need for education and raising awareness of EHRs.’

A key aspect of this work will be communicating the value to the individual patient: that is, to “me.” Health is personal: it’s about the self, the family, other loved ones, and “my” community. Communicating the benefits of EHRs across these consumer group-types will be important to gain health citizens’ trust in this new (for most people) form of health information. That will be a strategic, necessary step that will help providers get to meaningful use.

While Xerox suggests in its press release that it’s providers who can serve up this sort of education, the Federal government, through ONC and the leadership of Lygeia Ricciardi, is developing just such a campaign: Putting the “I” into Health IT. I am part of a working group informing the consumer message component of this program, and it’s moving along
quickly. Expect to see the launch of this important campaign in the autumn 2011. In the meantime, you can get a flavor for this effort by watching this excellent video.


About Jane Sarasohn-Kahn

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn is a health economist, advisor and trend-weaver to organizations at the intersection of health, technology and people. Jane founded THINK-Health after spending a decade as a health care consultant in firms in the U.S. and Europe. Jane’s clients are all stakeholders in health, including technology, bio/life sciences, providers, plans, financial services, consumer products, public sector and not-for-profit organizations. Jane founded the Health Populi blog in 2007, covering health policy, technology, and consumers.

3 Responses to Most Americans don’t yet perceive the benefits of EHRs

  1. Brian Ahier July 21, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Lygeia Ricciardi rocks! Folks, if you are not already, then follow her on Twitter here:

  2. Carol Levy July 23, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    My ophthalmologist uses EHR. It takes them longer than it did when they just wrote in my chart. In addition they still use paper and pencil (yes pencil) to make a rendering if what my cornea looks like and where the dryness is. Later on they have to then scan this into the computer.
    I do worry about being hacked, although there is nothing many already do not know about my med history. (I wrote about it in my book A PAINED LIFE, a chronic pain journey) so that is not a major concern.
    It is annoying that the visit takes longer, for each patient, increasing the waiting time (probably an addition 5 – 120 minutes depending on their computer ability).
    I am not sure EHR is a bad idea but for now I am not a big proponent.

    Carol Jay Levy
    author A PAINED LIFE, a chronic pain journey

    (I submitted but did not seeit or a note about an email verification so I apologize if this came through twice)

  3. Steve Muccini July 26, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    Although I agree with the results, I have to wonder why Xerox would survey this audience, “American Adults”. Most are completely uniformed about the development of EHR technology and they aren’t the ones paying for its implementation. It is really built by the institution and for the institution. Not to be blunt, but who cares what an American adult thinks?

    Sure, health records are generated on behalf of any American adult who has been treated by a physician, but the typical patient doesn’t think twice about what is being typed into the computer or written on the chart and how that information is stored or shared. They just want a smooth and efficient ride through the process of getting their care and having it paid for by their insurance company.

    When you open up the kimono to show the average American adult what all is going on, they immediately go into curmudgeon mode and consider all the things which could go wrong. Getting hacked, failed systems or even the loss of power are all valid concerns but those which keep the people who build and run these systems up at night. The question of going electronic or not isn’t even on the table for discussion.

    I agree that what is missing here is the presentation of the benefits of a PHR to the individual. If they first presented all the upside of a PHR and then indicated that the PHR couldn’t exist without the hospitals implementing and using an EHR, I think it would have done a better job of putting it into context.

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