Pew study: Online access to records increasingly 'acceptable' for Americans

More Americans are in favor of online access to their medical records, so long as they believed that the site was secure, according to a new study by Pew Research Center.

The study, part of a larger study on privacy and information, surveyed 461 U.S. adults and conducted nine online focus groups of 80 people. It found that 52 percent of respondents were in favor of an online website where they could view their medical records and schedule appointments where the doctor "promises" that it's a secure website. Only 26 percent found that scenario unacceptable.

Patients ages 50 and older were more likely to find such access acceptable than those ages 18 to 49 (62 percent v. 45 percent); those with some college education also were more in favor of such access than those who did not have such education (59 percent v. 44 percent). Those in favor noted that the added convenience and ease would be appealing, although some said that it depended on how secure the website was, who would access the data and whether the respondent in general trusted his or her doctor.

Those who found the scenario unacceptable mainly were concerned about the security of their electronic health records, citing worries about hacking and exposure of potentially sensitive information. Others wanted to avoid being subjected to marketing and other pitches based on knowledge of their medical information.

The respondents were more in favor of this access to their medical information than to other areas where they may be giving up some privacy, such as "smart" technology in their homes or GPS tracking by their auto insurer in exchange for lower car insurance rates.

Other studies have found that patient access to their records has clinical benefits. Access to electronic notes can improve a patient's medication adherence and the accuracy of the records. However, many patients still don't realize that they're entitled to access their medical records. The Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights issued guidance earlier this month to alert consumers of this right.

To learn more:
- read the study