33% of Patients Access Their Health Data via Patient Portals

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule allow people to view information regarding their health stored by their providers. However, as revealed in a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, few patients are actually exercising this right using the provided patient portals.

The Medicare Electronic Health Record Incentive Program encouraged healthcare organizations to move from paper to electronic medical records and now almost 90% of subscribers to participating providers have access to patient portals where they can view their health data. Even though patients have been given the access, fewer than a 33% of patients are accessing patient portals to view their health information.

GAO viewed patient health information access from the patients’ point of view, conducting interviews with patients to find out why they are not taking using this valuable resource.

Out of the healthcare organizations that took part in the Medicare EHR Program, 88% of hospitals and 87% of workers offered patients access to their health information online, yet only 15% of hospital patients and 30% of other providers’ patients viewed their data online.

When patient portals are used to view health information it is normally preceding a medical appointment or soon afterwards to view medical test results. Information is also usually accessed in order to share health data with a new healthcare provider. However, in most cases, patients were using the portals to schedule appointments, set reminders or order renewal of prescriptions.

The issue does not seem to be a lack of interest in accessing or obtaining health information, rather it is one of frustration. The  steps involves in setting up access to patient portals and viewing health data is time consuming. Patients normally have multiple healthcare providers and must repeat the same process for each health care provider. So they can access all their health information, they must use a different portal for each provider and register separate login information for each. Additionally, patient portals are not uniform. Each requires patients to ascertain how to access their data and familiarize themselves with the healthcare portal.

When the patient portals have been established, patients often see incomplete or inaccurate data, with information inconsistent among different healthcare providers. It would make life easier if all data could be moved electronically between each provider or gathered in one place, yet patients were confused by the process and were not sure if this was possible, and if so, how it could be achieved. Many patients were not even aware if their health information could be downloaded or transmitted.

GAO said out that while the HHS has been asking healthcare providers to give patients access to health information via patient portals, there does not appear to have been any further steps taken. GAO says the HHS seems to be unsure how effective its program has been. GAO has recommended HHS set up some performance gauges to deducee whether its efforts are actually successful.

Author: Maria Perez