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 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.

Recent Posts

The Real Test of Health Literacy
Well, maybe people are little more informed about their health benefits and a little more health literate than… Read More
By October 13, 2021
Making the Business Case for Hiring More Nurses
How many nurses does it take to provide safe and effective care to patients in a hospital? The… Read More
By May 19, 2021
Where Would You Rank the Affordability of Medical Care on a List of the Nation’s Biggest Problems?
Where would you rank healthcare affordability on a list of the biggest problems facing the U.S.? Behind racism… Read More
By May 12, 2021