GAO: HHS efforts to enhance patient access to EHRs fall short

Dive Brief:

  • A new report says patients are not accessing and using their electronic health information, despite wide availability to do so, and calls on HHS to reassess the effectiveness of efforts to increase patient engagement with EHRs.  
  • According to the General Accountability Office report, only about one-third of patients accessed EHRs through physician practices. The rate of use among hospital patients was less than half that at 15%, despite 88% of hospitals providing access.
  • HHS has injected more than $35 billion into health IT, mainly intended to increase the adoption of EHRs among caregivers.

Dive Insight:

Much of the federal push to increase patient use of EHRs has fallen to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and CMS through programs like Patient Engagement Playbook and the Medicare EHR Incentive Program. However, neither agency has effective means of measuring the outcomes of their efforts to see if patients are actually accessing and using their EHRs.

“While HHS’s investment in health IT is significant, HHS lacks the ability to determine whether, or to what extent, CMS’s and ONC’s efforts are helping HHS achieve its goals,” the report concludes. GAO recommended HHS develop performance measures to assess its efforts to enhance patients’ access to longitudinal health information and use the information to achieve program goals.

Despite an industry-wide push to increase patients’ use of their personal health information, little progress has been made — in part due to lack of interest from patients, but also in part because providers have not actively promoted PHIs and patient portals.

According to a recent West survey, 75% of patients with chronic conditions want their provider to check in regularly so they can be alerted if anything looks unusual, though only 30% report receiving such feedback. Such information could be useful in tracking a patient’s health between visits and better inform the doctor when the patient schedules their next visit.

Providers are aware of the need improve EHR access. In a survey by CDW Healthcare, 71% of providers said improving patient engagement is a top priority and 80% said they were working to make EHRs easier for patients to access.

Filed Under: Health IT Hospital Administration Policy & Regulation Practice Management
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