Frustrated patients tell GAO why they're not looking at their medical records online

Plenty of patients can access their medical records online, but bad user experience often means they won't. 

The Government Accountability Office interviewed patients who tried to access their own medical information online. Their chief complaint: Wasted time. 

Patients said it takes too much time to set up portals and figure out how each one works. The need to remember multiple passwords also frustrates patients, the agency said in a blog post.

In a report released earlier this year, the GAO found that just 15% of hospital patients accessed their medical records, even though 88% of hospitals offer access. A third accessed medical information from physician practices.

Carolyn Yocom, a director in the GAO’s healthcare team, said in an audio interview in the post that poor interoperability is another a roadblock to access, which is especially frustrating when they're trying to prepare for an appointment or, worse, in an emergency.

Providers should make it easy for patients to access everything they need in one place to avoid a frustrating experience, Yocom said.

“Most patients ... have some access to their health information, but people generally access only the information when they need it,” Yocom said. “It’s a resource that’s there, but it’s not necessarily a thing you’d expect people to use all the time.”

To increase access and use, the Department of Health and Human Services offers funding to help more providers offer patient portals, and provides resources to educate patients on how to use these tools and when they may be most useful, Yocom said.

RELATED: 7 ways to improve patient access to medical records

Increasing patient access to medical records can decrease errors and make it easier to identify adverse events.

A NEJM Catalyst survey found that most providers use online portals, and experts say that offering such programs to patients can increase engagement.

But portals could be more personalized and interactive to engage patients better.