Medical record privacy remains a concern for patients

April 29, 2010

Americans remain concerned about the privacy of their medical records, according to the results of a new study released by the California HealthCare Foundation.

Americans remain concerned about the privacy of their medical records, according to the results of a new study released by the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF).

Sixty-eight percent of the 1,849 people surveyed by Lake Research Partners between December 18 and January 15 said they were "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about the privacy of their health information. That percentage remains relatively unchanged from a 2005 CHCF national consumer survey in which 67 percent of respondents reported the same level of concern.

Many of those recently surveyed expressed concern that employers, health insurance plans, and others could use their health information; 42 percent said they would not be comfortable if their information were shared, and an additional 25 percent said they weren't sure whether they would be comfortable. One-third said that fear might make them consider hiding some information from their healthcare providers, and an additional 15 percent said that such concerns would cause them not to tell their doctors something.

"While there is still a lot of work to be done to overcome concerns about privacy, as more physicians adopt electronic health records (EHRs), their patients will have easier access to their health information," said Sam Karp, CHCF vice president of programs. "Most important, we need physicians and patients to start talking about how these tools can improve their communication and assist patients to be more in control of their own health."

Two-thirds of those surveyed said privacy concerns should not stand in the way of learning how technology can help improve health care.

Among the survey's other findings:

Seventy-one percent of respondents who said they were personal health record (PHR) users were white; 59 percent were men; 55 percent were aged fewer than 45 years; and 51 percent were college graduates.

More than half of all PHR-user respondents (52 percent) said that they felt as if they had learned more about their health as a result of their PHRs, and one-third of that group said that they used the PHR to take a specific action to improve their health.

Almost 60 percent of PHR-user respondents with incomes of less than $50,000 said they felt more connected to their doctors as a result of their PHRs, compared with 31 percent of higher-income users. (Overall, 38 percent of respondents said they felt more connected to their doctors.) Also, four out of 10 PHR-user respondents (40 percent) with multiple chronic conditions reported doing something to improve their health, compared with 24 percent of others interviewed.

Fifty-eight percent of all survey respondents said that they want to use PHRs provided by their physicians, and 50 percent said they want to use PHRs offered by their insurers. One in four (25 percent) reported wanting to use PHRs developed and marketed by private technology companies.

Respondents who reported that their doctors use EHR systems were more likely to report wanting a PHR than other respondents (50 percent versus 41 percent, respectively). They also reported being more interested in devices and applications than the overall group.