Access to patient information is on the rise, aiding engagement

Portals and API interfaces with third-party apps put more power in patients’ hands to view their health data and act upon it.

One way to better engage patients is to make sure they have access to their medical information. Recent federal initiatives are aiming to do just that – recent federal policy levers include the ONC Cures Act Final Rule, promulgated under Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, and the Implement Interoperability and Patient Access Provisions of the Bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act, under the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. For the past several years, ONC’s Health IT Certification Program requires that providers’ electronic health records systems have features, such as portal functionality, that enables patients to electronically view, download and transmit their health information.

This past summer, ONC provided estimates about the percentage of U.S. hospitals that enable patients to have electronic access to their health information. ONC’s data show that portals are in wide use, and that a majority of hospitals enable access to health information through mobile or other software applications. However, small, rural, independent and critical access hospitals are lagging behind larger provider organizations in enabling such data access for patients. ONC based its research findings on data from recent Annual Survey Information Technology Supplements from the American Hospital Association.

More hospitals make health info available via app

ONC’s study found that seven out of every 10 hospitals in 2019 have the technology in place to enable inpatients to access their health information through an app. The agency reported that the proportion of hospitals that enabled inpatients to use apps to get their health data rose by more than 50 percent from 2018 to 2019. And there was a 30 percent increase in the proportion of hospitals that enabled patients to view clinical notes.

The chart above shows the percentage of non-federal acute care hospitals at which patients can use app-enabled applications.

Information access via portal is widely offered

ONC reports that nearly all hospitals enable patients to electronically view health information through a portal in 2019. Other capabilities for health information – such as downloading it or transmitting it -- are possible through portals at a vast majority of hospitals. And 75 percent of the nation’s hospitals say patients can use their portal to view, download and/or transmit their health information to a third party.

Info access impacted by hospital type, size

While hospitals of all types and sizes have technology in place that enables patients to view or download information, other information capabilities are impacted by those facility factors. For example, small hospitals and critical access hospitals are less likely to have the technology in place to transmit health information or to permit app-enabled information access. Rural and independent hospitals also lag behind in some capabilities.

The ONC research also indicates that hospitals with a 2015 Edition Certified EHR were able to allow electronic access to health information through an app at nearly twice the rate of hospitals that did not have a 2015 Edition Certified EHR. Finally, about three out of every four hospitals allow patients to view clinical notes through patient portals, consistent across all types and sizes of hospitals.

Access to inpatient, outpatient information is similar

Among hospitals that provide outpatient care, 97 percent enabled outpatients to view their health information in a patient portal; 95 percent enabled outpatients to download their health information; and 75 percent enabled them to transmit their health information to a third party.

ONC reported that more than eight in 10 hospitals—82 percent—reported that patients in their outpatient setting can view their clinical notes. Nearly three-quarters of hospitals (73%) reported that patients in their outpatient setting can access health information using apps.

As the chart indicates, hospitals were more likely to provide access at all of their practice sites, rather than only selected practice sites in 2019.

Integrated EHRs more likely to aid patient access

Hospitals that use the same EHR across their outpatient sites enabled patient access to health information at higher rates, compared with hospitals that have outpatient sites at which EHRs from different vendors are used. Seven in 10 hospitals that provide outpatient care reported that they use the same EHR across all outpatient sites, while three in 10 reported they used a different EHR across practice sites. ONC analysts noted that organizations that use the same EHR systems across sites aids patient engagement and showed significantly more ability for patients to access, download and transmit their medical information, compared with organizations that use different EHRs across their outpatient sites.

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