E-health records still scare most of us

Healthcare industry needs to put more time into consumer education, survey shows

Nearly 80% of consumers surveyed earlier this year said they're wary of electronic health records because they're concerned that their personal information might be stolen or lost it if were kept in an EHR system.

The online survey, conducted by Harris Interactive for Xerox in February and released last week, polled 2,720 U.S. adults, the majority of whom felt that their personal information could be misused if it was stored electronically.

The No.1 concern: hackers.

"There's a lack of understanding about what EHRs are all about," said Paul Solverson, a partner in Xerox's strategic advisory services unit. "All the stereotypical concerns with ID theft encroach into the healthcare field." He acknowledged that there is a "track record" of breaches resulting in data loss in healthcare, but pointed out that those breaches are far less likely to be the result of hacker activity and more likely to be the result of "media at rest being lost" -- as would happen when a laptop is misplaced or a file is transmitted by accident.

Solverson believes there's so much consumer angst over EHR systems because the healthcare industry has done a woefully inadequate job of informing patients about the technology and its benefits, such as the fact that it can actually make patient information more secure.

"If patients had any idea today how accessible paper records are, I think they'd be astonished," he said.

Of those surveyed by Harris Interactive, 78% indicated they were concerned about hackers accessing EHR systems; 64% said they were worried about the threat of lost, damaged or corrupted files; and 62% cited concerns over the misuse of electronic healthcare information.

Twenty-three percent of the respondents said that they believe patients have the least to gain from a conversion to digital records.

"That's pretty cynical. And it shows a lack of understanding of EHRs and their ability to improve evidence-based medicine, error-checking and electronic documentation, and 24/7 access to information," Solverson said. "These are benefits not being communicated to patients."

Evidence-based medicine involves best practices that use evidence gained via the scientific method for medical decision-making. One of the main reasons the federal government is pushing the rollout of EHR systems is to foster the use of evidence-based medicine by promoting the standardization of treatments.

Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills, Mich., plans to roll out an EHR system at the end of this year. The system will allow health records to electronically follow individual patients as they move through different departments of the hospital.

"When a patient moves from the emergency center to radiology or critical care, for example, their EHRs will be immediately available to the various caregivers, greatly increasing patient safety and quality of care," Dr. Paul LaCasse, president and CEO of Botsford Hospital, said in a statement.

A finding in the Harris Interactive/Xerox survey that highlighted the lack of education surrounding EHRs was the fact that only 18% of the respondents who have healthcare providers said that they have been approached about converting their paper records to a digital format.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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