October 6, 2021
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David Burda
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A Little Progress in Giving Patients Control Over Their Own Health Information

I’ve previously confessed to being a half-empty kind of person. As a journalist, I’m trained to search out conflict and report it. That training was on full display in this post, “Patient Health Information: Look but Don’t Share,” in which I pointed out that more hospitals let their patients pay their bills online than let their patients schedule appointments online. 

But I’m also trained to be balanced and fair in my reporting. In that spirit, this post is going to highlight  some progress on patients accessing and controlling their own health information as they become more enlightened healthcare consumers. Fair is fair.

The first bits of positive news come out of a new 14-page data brief from HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology that you can download here. The brief is based on data from something called the Health Information National Trends Survey from the National Cancer Institute.  Nearly 4,000 U.S. adults responded to the survey, which was conducted from January through April in 2020. 

Here are the bits of good news:

  • 59 percent of the respondents said their provider offered them a patient portal in 2020 compared with 58 percent in 2019
  • 38 percent of the respondents said they used their patient portals in 2020 compared with 37 percent in 2019 

When I said bits, I meant bits. At least the percentages didn’t drop, right? 

Of the respondents who used their patient portals last year, 58 percent said they used them to send secure messages to their providers, up from 53 percent in 2019. And 55 percent said they used their portals to look at their providers’ clinical notes, up from 48 percent in 2019.  OK, that’s a little better.

The second bits of positive news also come from ONC but this time in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. You can download the six-page study here. ONC wanted to know whether EHR vendors are enabling third-party healthcare apps used by providers and/or patients to connect to their EHR systems. To find out, ONC tracked the app “galleries” managed by four EHR vendors and one children’s hospital. Each gallery lists and links to apps that integrate with the vendor’s respective EHR system. 

ONC found that the total number of third-party apps in the five galleries rose 22 percent to 734 apps in December 2020 from 600 apps in December 2019. The number of different developers represented by the apps also rose by 18 percent to 610 from 517 over the same one-year period.

The most common function performed by the apps was administrative (42 percent) followed by clinical tasks (38 percent), care management (31 percent), patient engagement (20 percent) and research (5 percent). That adds up to more than 100 percent because some apps do more than one thing.

According to a report released by IQVIA in July, there are more than 350,000 mobile health apps on the market, including more than 90,000 that developers released in 2020. So, the number of apps in the app galleries studied by ONC is a drop in the bucket. But, hey, at least the number went up in 2020, right?  

See, I’m trying.

Thanks for reading. 

About the Authors

David Burda

Dave is 4sight Health’s biggest news junkie, resident journalist and healthcare historian. He began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes his own column, “Burda on Health,” for us, contributes weekly blog posts, and manages our weekly e-newsletter and weekly podcast, 4sight Friday and 4sight Roundup. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers—patients—are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow. Follow Burda on Twitter @DavidRBurda and on LinkedIn.

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