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June 16, 2021
David Burda
Innovation Policy System Dynamics
Blogs Dispatches

Patient Health Information: Look but Don’t Share

I make my living with words, but actions do speak much louder.

Every hospital, health system and medical practice says it puts patient first, it’s patient-centered and it provides patient-centric care. Yet, when you dig deeper, many providers still do things that make their patient-focused words ring a little hollow.

You can find a great example of that in a new data brief from HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. You can download the 16-page June data brief here

Using data that ONC collects annually via a hospital survey partnership with the American Hospital Association, the agency looked at the extent to which hospitals give patients electronic access to their own health information.

Everyone agrees, at least in theory, that patients own their own health information, patients can access their own health data whenever and wherever they want, and patients can do whatever they want with their own health information.  Those rights are part of the foundation of healthcare consumerism.

According to the ONC, 97 percent of all hospitals enabled patients to view their own health information in their portal in 2019, the latest year for which the agency collected survey data. That’s good, although it’s the same percentage that did so the previous two years in 2017 and 2018. Makes you wonder who the 3 percent holding out are?

But, when it comes to letting patients do something with the health information that they’re looking at, hospitals get a little less altruistic.  

For example, 91 percent of hospitals in 2019 let patients download their own health information from their portal—the same percentage as in 2017 and 2018. You can look but you can’t keep.

Further, only 75 percent of hospitals in 2019 let patients transmit their own health information from their portal to a third party like another hospital or medical practice. That percentage was 74 percent and 73 percent in 2017 and 2018, respectively. You can look but you can’t share.

We’re all adults here, and we know exactly what’s going on. This is about leakage, and not the kind that requires you to get your heart valve replaced. This is about patient leakage, or patients dribbling out of the hospital’s network of affiliated providers and to a competitor or unaffiliated provider. When patients can download or send their health information anywhere, they can go anywhere without having to start their medical journey all over again. 

Patient leakage is lost patient volume, and despite all the talk about empowering patients, this is about the healthcare revenue cycle. Actions speak louder than words, and the ONC survey data shows it. 

Maybe I’m being harsh, but here is some other ONC survey data that speaks volumes. 

Sixty-three percent of hospital outpatient sites that are on the same EHR system let patients schedule appointments online. Seventy-own percent let patients request refills for prescriptions online. But a whopping 87 percent let patients pay their bills online as do 86 percent of hospitals for inpatient care. 


About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. 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.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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