While the general adaptation rate of personal health records (PHR) is still low in the U.S., the health records are catching on despite privacy and other concerns, according to a new study released Tuesday by the California Healthcare Foundation.
The results of a survey released today of thousands of users of electronic personal health records nationwide (PHRs) revealed that while the wealthy tend to use them more, it was the poor who derive the greatest benefits from online records.
Unlike electronic health records (EHRs), which are used by doctors and other healthcare providers, PHRs are used by the patients to access information online about their health, whether it is the latest medical laboratory test results or their medical histories from various sources. PHRs can also be used to communicate with physicians through e-mail.
While only 7% of Americans — or one in 14 — say they’ve used a PHR, usage of the online records has doubled over the last two years, according to the CHF survey of 1,848 Americans over the age of 18.
According to users of PHRs, the top five reasons for accessing their PHR is to make sure health information is correct; checking for test results; reviewing drug records online; e-mailing providers; and scheduling office visits.
The use of PHRs for accessing records is important to boosting patients’ safety, said Dr. Kate Christensen, a physician and medical director of Internet services at Kaiser Permanente, which has the largest civilian installation of e-medical records in the U.S.
Among the small population who have used PHRs, one in three said they had taken specific steps to help improve their health and 56 percent said they know more about their health because they have access to these records. Some of those who appear to have benefited the most from having access to their PHRs “have been difficult for health care providers to engage: those with multiple chronic conditions, less education and lower incomes,” the foundation said in its report on the survey results.
Geographically, the West leads the nation in its early adoption of PHRs: 11 percent across 10 states have used a PHR–double the proportion of those in other regions. Furthermore, 15 percent of Californians have used a PHR. (California was not included in the West group.)
According to the survey, users said that secure, password-protected PHRs give them the confidence they need to access their personal information online, and when they do, they pay more attention to their health. One in three PHR users said they used the PHR to take a specific action to improve their health. Significantly, such benefits are most pronounced among populations that have been difficult for healthcare providers to engage: patients with multiple chronic conditions, less education and lower incomes, CHCF stated.