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Patient access to physician EHRs helps build loyalty

A report finds that a majority of patients say electronic connection to their health records is important in choosing a doctor.

By Karen Caffarini — Posted Aug. 20, 2013

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A new consumer survey indicates that 23% of patients are tapping into their physicians’ electronic health records to check their test results, order prescription refills and make appointments. Meanwhile, another 52% want that access, although they currently don’t have it.

If they don’t get it, they might look for a doctor who will give them access, according to the survey, conducted jointly by national marketing and research firms Aeffect and 88 Brand Partners and released Aug. 5.

“To us, the most important number is the 52% of people who want access to [EHRs]. Almost 50% of interested nonusers said access to an [EHR] would be very important to them when selecting a new [physician],” said Tamara O’Shaughnessy, vice president of Aeffect.

The survey, completed by 1,000 patients in December 2012, also revealed that patients who have connected to an EHR through a patient portal are more satisfied with their doctors overall, by a 78% to 68% margin, than those who haven’t had such access. Also, the EHR users, by an 82% to 73% margin, expressed confidence in the quality of care they’ve received.

The survey consisted of 40 questions on topics related to EHR use and targeted patients from age 25 to 55 who have health insurance, have seen a physician within the past three years and have a regular doctor. It comes as many practices begin preparing or attesting for stage 2 of the federal meaningful use program, which rewards physicians who reach certain standards in EHR use and later will penalize those who do not. Stage 2 includes a requirement that at least 5% of a practice’s patients connect to their health information through a portal to the EHR.

The companies behind the survey said it’s likely that those patients who can tap directly into their records feel a greater connection to their physicians and what they are doing. “The more engaged you can get with your patient, the more loyal they will be,” said Michael McGuire, director of strategy at 88 Brand Partners. McGuire said so far, no one is picking a doctor solely on EHR access, although numbers indicate they are thinking of it as one factor.

The kinds of users

The survey identified four categories of patients and their relationship to their physicians’ EHR. “Disinterested nonusers,” who believe EHRs are no more accurate than paper files, comprised 18% of respondents. “Interested nonusers,” who tend to be less satisfied with their physician than any other type of user, made up 52%. “Trial users,” a third of whom have just recently started checking records in EHRs, comprised 9%. “Regular users,” one in three of whom are caregivers to an adult family member, made up 13%.

According to O’Shaughnessy, the “interested nonusers” said they aren’t connecting with EHRs because they haven’t been given access to a patient portal, their doctor doesn’t have an EHR, or because they don’t know how to use a portal.

Robert Tennant, senior policy adviser focusing on health IT for MGMA-ACMPE, an organization for medical practice managers, said the study is good in that it raises the question of EHRs’ impact on patient satisfaction. However, Tennant said he was surprised that the survey didn’t include seniors, who tend to be less technically savvy than others.

“When you factor in seniors, I’m not sure there’s a significant difference between [EHR] users and nonusers,” Tennant said.

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