Consumer access and use of electronic health information is growing. However, additional progress is needed in this area, particularly in increasing patient engagement, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

New data from ONC show a six-fold increase in the percentage of hospitals giving consumers the ability to view, download, and transmit their health information online, going from 10 percent in 2013 to 64 percent in 2014. Further, separate data reveal the percentage of Americans offered online access to their medical records rose from 28 percent in 2013 to 38 percent in 2014.

“It demonstrates progress, but we still have a lot of work to do,” said National Coordinator for HIT Karen DeSalvo, M.D., at last week’s Consumer Health IT Summit. “This has got to continue to rise.”

The good news is that more than half of the individuals who were offered online access to their medical records in 2014 viewed their record at least once, DeSalvo said. In addition, last year almost half of individuals nationwide engaged in at least one of the following activities: sending or receiving a text message or an email from their provider; using a smartphone health app; or looking at their test results online.

When it comes to consumer engagement, DeSalvo argued that patient portals are “a powerful tool, but it’s only powerful when we make use of it.” She asserted that providers need to do a better job of educating their patients about accessing health information through patient portals.

Also See: The Portal Outlook is Cloudy

Toward that end, ONC has released a new tool—called Strategies for Improving Patent Engagement Through Health IT—that outlines the steps primary care providers should incorporate in their workflows so they can increase awareness and the use of patient portals.The content in the tool was developed from the experiences of Regional Extension Center staff in the performance of technical support and EHR implementation assistance to primary care providers.

“By directly engaging patients to use a portal and supporting practices to integrate use into care, primary care practices can match or potentially surpass the usage rates achieved by large health systems,” states the guide. 

“The time is now for us to see that consumers have access to and control of their electronic health information,” concluded DeSalvo. “Consumers should have access to their health information and be able to direct it wherever they want it to go.”

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