Personal health records (PHRs) have been touted as a way for patients to improve their healthcare experience and the quality of their patient care. However, a closer look shows that a "digital divide" has opened up among various population groups -- creating major gaps among those who do -- and don't -- access their medical data online, according to a new Archives of Internal Medicine study.
In the long run, differences in race, income and age appear to influence which patients will use their computers to view their health histories. Overall, the study found that patients who are white, older, wealthier and/or have two or more medical comorbidities were more likely to request access to their PHRs.
The study reviewed the records of 75,000 patients living in the northeastern United States who had been seen between 2007 and 2009 at a clinical practice that offered PHRs. However, a closer look at the 43 percent of patients who signed up revealed numerous disparities.
For example, blacks and Hispanics were only half as likely to sign up for PHR access when compared with white patients, the researchers noted. In addition, the wealthiest patients were 14 percent more likely to request PHR use than the poorest patients.
Also, patients over age 65 or older were more likely to sign up than those between ages 18 and 35, as were those with more than one serious health issue.
"The bottom line is that a digital divide does exist in terms of who tends to start using online personal health records," one of the researchers, David Bates, MD, of the Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital, told HealthDay News. "But the good news is that once people actually start using them, the level of use is basically the same for all patients, regardless of socioeconomic status and race."
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