EHRs: Americans favor electronic health records but worry about confidentiality

October 24, 2008

A majority of Americans believe it's important for all of their health information to be stored electronically, but have "serious" concerns about the confidentiality of those records, according to a recent survey.

A majority of Americans believe it’s important for all of their health information to be stored electronically, but have “serious” concerns about the confidentiality of those records, according to a recent survey.

Sixty percent of respondents say it’s “extremely” or “very” important that their health records be stored electronically in a central location so they can be shared by authorized health-care providers, according to a survey of 1,000 American adults published by the nonprofit Employee Benefits Research Institute.

However, a greater number – 62 percent – say they’re not confident the records would be kept confidential if they were stored electronically and shared through the Internet. Just 12 percent say they’re “extremely” or “very” confident that the information would remain confidential, according to the survey.

A majority of respondents prefer computer-based to paper-based storage of health records. Fifty-five percent say it’s extremely or very important that their records are stored electronically rather than on paper. Just 16 percent say it’s “not too” or “not at all” important that health information be stored electronically instead of on paper. Those numbers are similar to the results of a similar survey from 2005, the EBRI says.

Paul Fronstin, the EBRI’s director of health research, says Americans will become more willing to embrace electronic health records in the coming years.

“People are skeptical now … but over time they’ll become more confident about the security of their medical records,” he says.

Fronstin likens consumer acceptance of electronic health records to Americans’ eventual comfort with using automatic teller machines, after initial concerns about the security of ATMs. 

The survey also contained fairly sobering numbers for proponents of so-called “quality” ratings systems of doctors and hospitals. Only 28 percent say they’d be extremely or very comfortable using such a system to find a doctor or hospital. A slightly smaller number, 23 percent, say they’d be “not too” or “not at all” comfortable using the ratings.