New research from the American Hospital Association suggests that nearly all hospitals now offer individual patients online access to their medical records, and most offer them the ability to perform related tasks as well.
According to AHA research, 92% of hospitals gave patients access to their medical records in 2015, up from 43% in 2013. Also, 84% allowed them to download information from the record, 78% let them request changes to their record and 70% made it possible for them to send a referral summary. (The latter has seen the biggest change since 2013, as only 13% could send such a summary at that time.)
In addition, hospitals have begun giving patients the ability to schedule appointments, order prescription refills and pay bills. As the AHA notes, progress on this front isn’t universal, as organizations need to integrate data from revenue cycle, pharmacy and scheduling systems to make it happen. But as hospitals invest in integration engines they will have a greater ability to roll out these options.
As of 2015, 74% of hospitals let patients pay bills online, up from 56% in 2013. However, progress on other consumer-friendly functions has been slower. Only 45% of hospitals let patients schedule appointments online, a modest increase from 31% in 2013, and just 44% let patients refill prescriptions, up from 30% in 2013.
Meanwhile, hospitals are slowly but surely expanding tools letting patients communicate with physicians. The AHA found that 63% let patients securely message care providers, up from 55% in 2014, and 37% let patients submit self-generated data, a big jump from the 14% who did so in 2013.
All of this suggests that rollouts of patient portal tools are likely to continue well after Meaningful Use has landed in the dustbin. After all, research suggests that dollars spent on these technologies will pay off, especially under at-risk value-based care models.
For example, an eye-opening study appearing in Health Affairs found that use of patient-physician email at Kaiser Permanente is associated with a 2% to 6.5% improvement in HEDIS performance measures like HbA1c levels, cholesterol and blood press screening and control. The same study noted that users of its My Health Manager were 2.6 times more likely to remain KP members than non-users, a phenomenon which may well apply to providers.
On the other hand, hospitals need to evaluate any potential portal solutions carefully. According to a study by research firm Peer60, many solutions have serious limitations that could lead providers to violate state laws or limit parent and minor engagement. Also, some organizations might not be ready to support patients who have issues adequately. Concerns like these might explain why 28% of the 200 healthcare execs surveyed by Peer60 said they weren’t looking at portal technology at the moment.