More patients are accessing their online medical records, with app users leading the charge

More patients are accessing their medical records online via patient portals or apps and are doing so more often than in years past, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC).

From 2020 to 2022, the portion of U.S. adults who reported being offered access to their medical records by a provider or insurer increased 24% to about 3 in 5, the office wrote in a recent data brief. The percentage who said they were offered access and used it jumped 50% during the same period, from 38% to 57%, according to ONC.

“Together these findings demonstrate increased patient demand for and use of online health information by individuals in recent years,” the office wrote in the brief, citing data from the 6,252-respondent 2022 Health Information National Trends Survey.

Patients who were offered access to their online medical records also used them more frequently—54% reported accessing their records at least three times during 2022, compared to 38% in 2020 and 26% in 2017.

ONC attributed the increases at least in part to 2020’s Cures Act Final Rule, which, over the last few years, has brought requirements for standardized application programming interfaces to enable smartphone health apps.

Specifically, the government’s health IT lead outlined a significant rise in the portion of survey respondents who said they used an app either alone or in conjunction with a web-only patient portal, from 38% in 2020 to 51% in 2022. Those who said they used an app also accessed their online medical records more often during the past year than respondents who said they only used a web portal.

“Forty-two percent of individuals who used an app to access their online medical records reported accessing them six or more times in the past year compared to 28% of those who used only a web-based portal, which suggests the use of apps may make it easier and more convenient for patients to track and engage with their health information,” ONC wrote in the brief.

2022 survey respondents said they most often used their online records to view test results (90%), followed by viewing clinical notes (70%), downloading health information (32%) and sending medical information to a third party (20%).

Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they had an online medical record or patient portal through their primary care provider’s office. About a third said they had digital access to their medical records through some other type of healthcare provider, 29% said they had access through an insurer and 26% cited a clinical laboratory.

Despite the adoption gains, ONC said the survey also outlined areas for improvement. Nearly half of all those polled either were not offered access to their records online or were offered access but did not do so during 2022.

The office cited research data indicating disparities among those who do or do not have access to their online medical records—for instance, those who have Medicaid insurance, less than a college degree or no access to the internet.

Meanwhile, “relatively low rates of downloading and transmitting health information by individuals who access their online medical records suggests a need for further education of both individuals and providers on these features,” ONC wrote in the brief. On the other hand, the ongoing rollout of Cures Act requirements during 2022 and into 2023 left the agency hopeful for greater adoption in the coming years.