Age, education, income not linked to PHR adoption

Age, education level and income were not good indicators of patients' willingness to adopt personal health records according to the results of a recently published study, though the patients' perceived ability to access and understand the information was.

Researchers from the University of Central Florida in Orlando polled 562 patients in a physician practice that was considering offering PHRs, but wanted to know whether patients would use them. Their findings, published in Perspectives in Health Information Management, did not support the notion that older, less educated and low-income patients would be less willing to adopt PHRs.

Of the total, 74 percent of the participants indicated that they would adopt a PHR. In the most common age group (41-55), 77 percent said they would use a PHR. Fifty-two percent of the patients had a high school education or less, yet 71 percent of that group expressed willingness to adopt a PHR. Meanwhile, 59 percent of patients were in the lowest income category (less than $20,000 annually) for 2008, and 75 percent of those indicated a willingness to use a PHR.

An eight-question survey was used to determine patients' perceived ability to access the information on the Internet (ehealth literacy) and to understand the medical information and use it to make health decisions (health literacy). Among those willing to use PHRs, 65 percent indicated they had a high level of health literacy, while 35 percent felt unsure of their ability to effectively use the information provided. Among those not planning to use a PHR, only 38 percent rated their health literacy as high.

Meanwhile, there were gaps between the pro-PHR and anti-PHR groups in whether patients agreed with certain statements related to ehealth literacy, including:

  • "I know how to use the Internet to answer my questions about health": 76 percent of those willing to use PHRs agreed, compared with only 48 percent of those not planning to use PHRs.
  • "I know how to use the health information I find on the Internet to help me": 72 percent vs. 41 percent.
  • "I can tell high-quality health resources from low-quality health resources on the Internet": 50 percent of patients who intend to adopt the PHR agreed with this statement, compared with 24 percent of those not willing to adopt PHRs.

The authors stressed the need for providers to equip patients with tools and staff to help them learn to be comfortable with accessing their information online and with interpreting information correctly. They stressed the need for glossaries of terms and "plain language" to make communication more effective.

The study did not measure whether the patients actually did adopt PHRs. Previous studies have reported that patients want to manage their own health records, but then grow complacent about actually doing it.

Kaiser Permanente recently reported that 4 million members--or 63 percent--use its PHR system, called My Health Manager, though a study published at the beginning of the year found most people don't take advantage of the opportunity when it's offered.

To learn more:
- read the research