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Patient Portals: Build It and Patients Will Come, New Industry Survey Says

NORWALK, CT – Most Americans don’t use online patient portals, but that’s not because they aren’t interested, according to a survey finding low awareness of online medical records.

The missing link is information and instruction from medical providers on how to obtain access, according to an annual survey on the usage of electronic health records commissioned by Xerox.

The Harris Poll survey was conducted online in September among 2,017 U.S. adults. A majority, 64%, reported that they do not currently use online patient portals. Yet, more than half of those who don’t use portals, 57%, said they would be much more interested and proactive in their personal healthcare if they had online access to their medical records.

Among those who do not use patient portals, 35% did not know a portal was available and 31% said their physician had never spoken to them about portals. Among those who reported the access, 59% said use of patient portals increased their interest and proactivity in their personal healthcare.

“With providers facing regulatory changes, mounting costs, and patients who increasingly seek access to more information, our survey points to an opportunity to address issues by simply opening dialogue with patients about patient portals,” said Tamara St. Claire, chief innovation officer, commercial healthcare for Xerox. “Educating patients will empower them to participate more fully in their own care while helping providers demonstrate that electronic health records are being used in a meaningful way.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services allows providers to earn Meaningful Use (MU) Stage 2 federal incentives if they demonstrate that 5% of patients are using secure portals to view, download and transmit their health information.

The survey reported separate results from two groups, Millennials, born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, and Baby Boomers, defined as being born from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, to determine whether their interest would differ in using patient portals.

The survey found that:

  • Millennials are more likely to report the highest preference in accessing patient portals on the go, with 43% saying they prefer to use their smartphones.
  • Millennials expressed the highest interest, 57%, in accessing medical records as compared to any other content on online patient portals.
  • The younger group also said they want to be able to view personalized recommendations to improve their health, 44%, information about additional services from their physician, 44%, and industry news about health topics of interest to them, 23%.

As for Baby Boomers, the survey found that:

  • Two of every three older Americans have multiple chronic conditions, and treatment for this population accounts for 66% percent of the country’s healthcare budget.
  • Many Boomers who do not use portals say they would be much more engaged in their care if they received access to medical information online (56% of those ages 55 to 64, and 46% of those 65 or older.
  • Boomers ages 55 to 64 accounted for the highest percentage, 83%, of respondents who say they already do or would communicate with healthcare providers via a patient portal.
  • Among Baby Boomers, 70% say they do or would schedule appointments; 64% access/review medical records/test results; 60% ask their physicians questions; 58% order prescription refills, and 40% request a referral.