Many cancer patients not benefitting from access, use of EHRs

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Although leveraging electronic health records can help cancer patients manage their complex healthcare information needs, many are not able to access and use their online medical records.

That’s the finding of an analysis of data released by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

“Approximately 40 percent of individuals with a previous cancer history reported not being offered access to their online medical record,” finds a new ONC data brief, based on results from the National Cancer Institute’s 2017 and 2018 Health Information National Trends Survey.

In addition, the agency reports that “a substantial portion of individuals with a previous cancer diagnosis did not view their online medical records when access was offered (to them).”

According to ONC, these patients indicated that the most common reasons for not viewing their EHR were a preference for speaking directly with a healthcare provider, not having a need to use online medical records or concerns about the privacy and security of their information.

While rates of viewing EHRs were higher among those with a recent cancer diagnosis, “online medical records appear to be underutilized by these individuals,” and they “did not report greater use of most functions of online medical records (such as help in making a medical decision about an illness), compared to individuals without cancer,” states ONC’s data brief.

At the same time, ONC observes that patients recently diagnosed with cancer are “more likely to experience gaps as information is exchanged, which may result in additional burden to the patient (e.g., having to bring a test result such as an X-ray or MRI to an appointment).”

The agency also notes that “this population may benefit from more information about the functions of online medical records for healthcare management, such as the ability to exchange secure messages with a provider, correct inaccurate information, or add new information to a medical record.”

Overall, ONC contends that healthcare providers can do a better job of addressing the unique characteristics, information needs and technology preferences of cancer patients when developing patient-facing EHRs and related digital tools.

“Previous work has shown that individuals are more likely to use their online medical record when encouraged by a healthcare provider,” concludes the agency. “Educating providers on the benefits of using online medical records for cancer patients could increase utilization of these tools.”

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