ONC Survey Finds Disparities for Some Health IT

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A survey by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology shows that consumers with lower incomes, less education and those in rural settings are less likely to use smartphone health apps, email their providers or look up test results online.

In addition, ONC found evidence of racial disparities in health IT use. For instance, individuals of Hispanic race/ethnicity had significantly lower rates of looking up test results online and emailing their provider compared to white non-Hispanics. “These differences may partially be related to language barriers; we found that individuals who took the survey in Spanish had lower rates of looking up test results online and emailing their provider,” states a new ONC data brief.

At the same time, other types of health IT showed less evidence of disparities. The agency said it found no disparities in text-messaging providers which “may be in part due to the widespread availability and use of phones with text-messaging capability and the lack of reliance on broadband Internet access.” However, ONC said it was unable to examine whether health IT access and use may be affected by other factors such as health insurance coverage and broadband access.

Nonetheless, ONC noted that socio-economic differences were evident in online access to medical records, while adding that “online access did not vary by other factors such as age, setting, or race/ethnicity” and that “once individuals were provided with access, usage of the online medical record largely did not vary by socioeconomic characteristics or setting.”

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ONC cautioned that its data brief includes national data from 2013, which was “prior to the implementation of efforts” such as Stage 2 meaningful use, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, and the expansion of the Blue Button Initiative, all designed to expand online access to individuals.

The agency also concluded that individuals’ access and use of certain forms of health IT are dependent upon provider HIT adoption. “These findings provide evidence that providers’ adoption of EHRs may enhance individuals’ access and use of certain types of health IT,” states ONC. “Rates of online access to medical records and rates of emailing health care providers, looking up test results online and use of smartphone health apps were approximately 3 times higher among individuals who reported their healthcare provider had adopted an EHR.”

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