Doctors hesitant to allow patients access to electronic health records
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Doctors hesitant to allow patients access to electronic health records

Electronic health records are among today's clinicians' biggest concerns when it comes to the implementation of more advanced healthcare IT solutions in the hospital setting. Many experts claim that the benefits of medical practices adopting more high-tech information management techniques could result in a number of benefits, from freeing up room in tight budgets to improving patients' health outcomes. One of the ideas that proponents of these solutions have lauded is that electronic health records could be used to give individuals greater access to and control over their medical data. According to a new study, doctors may not be so quick to get on board with expanding records access to their patients.

A recent report from research firm Accenture, which surveyed 3,700 healthcare providers in eight countries including the United States, found that only 31 percent of doctors believe that patients should have full access to their electronic health records. Physicians that would prefer to limit access were in the majority, at 65 percent. 

Accenture suggested that the main areas of contention may be in what information full electronic health records access would allow individuals to change. Most respondents saw little problem with allowing patients to update demographic information, medical history or lists of allergies on their own, while slightly less than half (47 percent) felt that patients should be able to update their records with lab results. 

This debate is an important one for healthcare IT, as the ultimate decisions will likely drive the development of solutions, but to the general public as well. It is possible that providing access to official records will empower patients to take better care of their physical condition.

"Many physicians believe that patients should take an active role in managing their own health information, because it fosters personal responsibility and ownership and enables both the patient and doctor to track progress outside scheduled appointments," said Mark Knickrehm, global managing director of Accenture Health. "Several U.S. health systems have proven that the benefits outweigh the risks in allowing patients open access to their health records, and we expect this trend to continue."

Kaveh Safavi, managing director of Accenture's North America health business, told Bloomberg Businessweek that the issue is likely based in concerns over accuracy. Doctors likely fear that giving multiple parties free access to the same set of documents could open up the potential for critical errors. While the news source noted that these mistakes could be as minor as misspellings, they could also be as potentially life-threatening as inaccurately-reported lab results. Safavi believes that as the move toward meaningful use of electronic health records continues, doctors will gradually begin to place more trust in their patients. 

According to Bloomberg, the healthcare industry spent approximately $24 billion on electronic health record implementation in 2012, and Accenture's results may indicate one reason why the investments are growing: 53 percent of surveyed physicians felt that using advanced healthcare IT solutions has improved overall quality of care. While there are challenges to overcome, it may be worthwhile for physicians and IT professionals to develop strategies moving forward.