Harris poll shows patients are still confused about EMRs

A week ago in FierceEMR, we ran a story about Dr. David Blumenthal's belief that physician practices may lose value in the future if they don't adopt EMRs. The story has attracted more reader comments than most FierceEMR stories, but one particularly struck me.

"Michelle W" wrote, in part, "While I agree, eventually new physicians will demand in mass [sic] for electronic charts and eventually patients will see the value and eventually there will be benefits to all from these systems, I don't think we're at that point yet, or will be at the end of HITECH."

I think Michelle is on to something. Just last week, Harris Interactive and HealthDay released the results of a consumer survey taken this month that found that 78 percent of U.S. adults "strongly" or "somewhat" agree that physicians should have access to their own electronic medical records--the same as last year, but down from 83 percent in 2008. Some 71 percent had similar feelings about the statement, "An EMR would be a valuable tool to track the progress of my health."

After that, the numbers get a little murky. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said they had a primary-care physician, and about 28 percent said their PCP used an EMR, while 17 percent indicated their PCP did not have electronic records. A full 42 percent reported having a primary-care physician, but were unsure whether he or she used an EMR. (The 28 percent plus 17 percent plus 42 percent don't add up to 89 percent because of rounding, according to Harris.)

Only tiny percentages of consumers said they used or even had access to various EMR functions, including electronic delivery of test results, email reminders for follow-up care and online appointment scheduling.

What does this show? "The general public only has a vague idea, only a very limited understanding, of what all this is about," Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll, which Harris Interactive runs, said in a press release. That's despite the fact that Harris said during the survey, "An electronic medical record [EMR] is a virtual health history, including illness, medical test results, allergies, prescription medication use, hospitalizations, etc. It can be used by healthcare providers to help manage medical conditions and avoid medical errors."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Consumers don't get it. But that can and should change, and I believe it's the responsibility of many parties to change that. You, the health IT community, need to help educate the general public about the benefits and drawbacks of EMRs. Some of that can happen by educating physicians and nurses on how to explain EMRs to patients. Those of those of us in the news media need to do a better job of explaining the issues, too. (You already know how I feel about a lot of the mainstream media's coverage of health IT.) Let's get to work. - Neil