The survey of 1,849 people was conducted by Lake Research Partners for the foundation between Dec. 18, 2009, and Jan. 15, 2010.
Current users of PHRs were more likely to be young, highly educated and with a higher income. But less-educated and lower-income people could see big advantages to PHRs, especially if they are chronically ill, researchers said.
“While these populations may be less likely to use PHRs, they will reap greater benefits from it,” said Mike Perry partner at Lake Research Partners.
For instance, among those respondents with annual incomes under $50,000 who had used a PHR, more than half said they felt more connected to their physicians as a result of using the electronic record. By contrast, 31% of people with higher incomes said the PHR made them feel more connected to their physician. Respondents without college degrees were more likely to say that the PHR allowed them to ask their physician more questions than people with college degrees, according to the survey.
This is significant, said Joshua Seidman, an official with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS. “Patient-family engagement is a priority for us,” he said.
The majority of respondents expressed overall frustration with the current healthcare system—with 60% saying they wish their physician had more time to spend with them; and 55% agreeing that they wished their physicians would share information more often. Half said keeping track of their health information is difficult.
“We have to address these frustrations with care,” Seidman said, adding that PHRs can help do this.
Providers were deemed the most trusted source for a PHR, with 58% saying they would trust one from a hospital or medical practice. Half said they would trust a PHR from their insurance plan; while 36% said they would trust a PHR from Medicare or other government organization. Only 25% said they would trust a PHR from a company like Google or Microsoft Corp. or from an employer.
Steve Findlay, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union, said these findings about health plan trust are encouraging because most PHRs “are likely to come that way.”
Privacy remains a sticking point, with 75% of respondents overall saying they worry about medical privacy. But people who actually have a PHR seemed less concerned, with 47% saying they are “not too worried.” Among this group, 11% reported feeling “very worried” about their data privacy, according to the survey.
“The point is while privacy concerns remain high, most consumers want to move in the direction of adoption,” Perry said.
But a large number of consumers still don't see the benefit of the technology, Perry said. Some 61% of respondents reported that they “don't need this to handle my health needs.”
“A bigger barrier than privacy is people don't think they need it,” Perry said.
Kate Christensen, medical director for Kaiser Permanente's PHR Internet services group, said providers need to bring consumers along. “What we need to do to lead the way … is to make sure we are developing these as something that people can really use.”
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