Patient access to EHR data both problematic and beneficial, says report

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A new report published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA) suggests that there is growing tension between patients and healthcare providers with regards to granting patients access to medical data contained in their electronic health records (EHRs).

A summary of the report indicates that several factors are preventing patients from accessing their personal health information on medical informatics systems, including issues of liability, cost and security concerns, and the flexibility of access privileges for both patients and physicians. Authored by researchers at the University of Toronto, the report focuses almost solely on the clinical informatics industry within the U.S.

Despite these barriers to easier sharing of patient health information, several federal regulations stipulate that access to electronic health records be provided to patients should they request it, according to Information Week. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act mandates that all patients have a right to access and inspect privately stored medical information.

In addition, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ meaningful use guidelines require that patients be provided with summaries of their medical information within three business days of a visit to a healthcare facility.

Although there are reasons that providing patients with access to their medical data may be beneficial, such as improved quality of care and patient satisfaction, the report details several instances where such access may not be in the best interests of the patient.

For example, individuals may not understand medical data as fully as their physician, and may become anxious or jump to conclusions when presented with data they do not fully grasp. Also, if a patient suffering from mental illness were to be designated as a suicide risk, informing the patient, even indirectly, would be counterproductive.

Ultimately, failing to provide patients with access to their data is no longer a viable option for healthcare providers. The report recommends that physicians, healthcare IT personnel and vendors work together to facilitate the secure sharing and transfer of patient health records.