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Individuals’ use of online medical records is on the rise
It’s taken years, but healthcare consumers are now becoming comfortable with the notion of accessing their medical records online. In fact, the use of portals and other mechanisms to access medical records is rising, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

And the pressure will rise in coming years, with the 21st Century Cures Act including provisions intended to improve patients’ access to and use of their electronic health information. Using data from the National Cancer Institute’s 2017 Health Information Trends Survey, ONCHIT earlier this year analyzed consumer access and use of online medical records and the use of technology such as smartphones, tablets and electronic monitoring devices for health related needs.
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More than half of individuals offered access to records
Researchers from ONC’s Office of Technology—Vaishali Patel and Christian Johnson—say individuals’ access to online medical records increased by 24 percent between 2014 and 2017.
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Nearly one out of three individuals accessed their records in the past year
While almost half of individuals were not offered access to an online medical record, some 28 percent of respondents viewed their medical record at least once within the past year. However, about a quarter of all individuals who could access their online records did not do so.
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Access is getting to be a habit for some individuals
In analyzing the frequency of viewing an online record in 2017, those who had been offered an online record by a provider or insurer, researchers found that about a quarter of individuals accessed their records three or more times. Of those who accessed their records, most did so once or twice.
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Patients say provider encouragement prompted them to look at records
Researchers found that 75 percent of providers encouraged patients to use online medical records. That makes a difference in consumers following through—63 percent of individuals encouraged to use their online records did so, compared with 38 percent of individuals who were not encouraged.
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Reasons why consumers didn’t access their online records
Researchers asked individuals who didn’t access their records for two reasons why they hadn’t. About three-quarters of individuals cited their preference to speak with their healthcare provider directly. In addition, about six in 10 of respondents said they did not have a need to use their online medical records.
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Laboratory results most frequently offered in online medical records
Researchers say that at least three-quarters of individuals who accessed their records online within the past year reported that they were able to get information on their laboratory tests, current medications and summaries of their office visits. Clinical notes were available to slightly more than half of all respondents, with about 55 percent able to access immunization or vaccination information.
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Tasks that individuals can do with their online records
Individuals with access to their records typically view test results, but results of the research show that users also are able to do important tasks with their online records. Some 85 percent of respondents just viewed test results online, and 62 percent performed one or more health-related tasks, such as requesting prescription refills, completing paperwork or making appointments. However, individuals were far less likely to download their online medical record or transmit data to an outside party, such as another healthcare provider or a caregiver.
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Online records deemed both useful and easy to understand
When the notion of online medical records were initially suggested, providers voiced concerns that patients wouldn’t be able to understand their records and wouldn’t be able to navigate them online. Researchers now find quite the opposite—some 82 percent found their records both useful for monitoring their health and easy to understand.
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Online records are useful for caregivers
Researchers found that nearly one out of every five respondents also serve as a caregiver to another person, such as a child or to an elderly parent. Of these caregivers, nearly one quarter accessed the online medical records of the person for whom they’re providing care. Of those accessing information, about half did so one or two times during the year. About one out of 10 accessed medical reocrds three or more times during the year.