Why do so few doctors share medical records with their patients?
New government-issued guidelines, released in January, spell out the details of patients’ rights to their medical records. This isn’t news: Healthcare providers have been required to provide patients with paper or electronic copies of the health information they had on file for twenty years now, since the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed in 1996. So why the new legislature?
It turns out that while we are technically entitled to our health records, actually getting them in our hands — or in our inboxes — often hasn’t been easy. Patients have been faced with long waits, unfair fees, and requests to show up to collect records in person. Among the reasons for these challenges is the fact that many doctors simply don’t want to share patients’ health records.
A poll conducted by physician social network SERMO showed that of 2,300 doctors, half felt that patients should only be given access to their full medical records on a case-by-case basis, and nearly 20% felt that this access shouldn’t be granted in any situation. Respondents explained that it can be problematic to share information that patients may not understand — and can easily misinterpret — and that sharing full records would upset the balance in the classic patient-provider relationship.
Today’s patients, on the other hand, are highly interested in gaining access to their medical records. In a survey of over 16,000 patients, about one fourth had downloaded medical records electronically, and nearly two thirds who hadn’t downloaded their records wanted access to do so. Patients want to feel empowered to take charge of their own health, specifically by gaining access to the information they need to share in medical decisions and leveraging the ability to advocate for themselves and their families.
Healthcare providers will have to adjust to this consumer trend also as the policy changes. An Accenture poll showed that 41% of patients found access to their medical records so important that they would switch doctors to gain it. Meanwhile, the motivation to take advantage of Meaningful Use incentive programs is an additional push for providers to integrate electronic health records with patient portals, increasing patient engagement.