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Electronic Health Records Can Be Useful for Patients, but Concerns Remain

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) allow providers and hospitals to input information about a patient’s health, diagnoses, and treatments into a computer system. These records can, when used correctly, help physicians keep track of patient histories and preferences and improve quality of care. They also give patients more access to their own data, increasing their ability to seek second opinions, better understand their health issues, and make corrections where needed. The use of EHRs has exploded in recent years, with 9% of hospitals using them in 2008 and 96% today.

But what does the public think about EHRs? This week, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) released a data note about public experiences with and views on EHRs. Based on polling information collected in the January 2019 KFF Health Tracking Poll, it shows that there is widespread exposure to EHRs but varying levels of concern about their use.

According to the KFF data, in 2009, 46% of the public reported that their providers used computer-based medical records. That number has gone up to 88%. Large shares of that 88% say this has made their interactions with their providers the same (45%) or better (44%), and similar shares (47%) say that the quality of care they have received has stayed the same or improved. At the same time, a significant share of the public (45%) is very or somewhat concerned that errors in the EHRs may hurt their care. Even more (54%) are worried about their privacy.

As the public perception on EHRs has evolved, a recent article from Kaiser Health News shows that so too has the industry assessment—and that the potential of EHRs has not yet been fully realized. Rather than the envisioned electronic ecosystem of information, today the nation’s EHR system largely remains a disconnected patchwork of information. Further, widespread data-entry errors, clinical mistakes, and software glitches may be putting patient safety at risk. The article also illustrates where the federal government has encouraged EHR use without always creating the right environment to ensure these systems are designed and used properly.

Despite these challenges, there is still great promise in EHRs for patients and providers. Medicare Rights supports the use of quality EHR systems with the robust oversight and transparency necessary to find and correct software problems, misuse, and privacy violations. In particular, we encourage timely access for Medicare beneficiaries to their own health records. As with all electronic tools, EHRs can speed up processes and add convenience and accuracy, but only when held to a high standard.

Read more from Kaiser Family Foundation on public perceptions of EHR use.

Read more from Kaiser Health News for more on problems in some EHR systems.

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