Survey Says…Patients Like EMRs (Or Think They Do)

Posted on March 9, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

For years, public health officials and health leaders have been sounding the praises of EMRs, arguing that patients would enjoy safer, more effective care once providers went digital.

For a while, it was a tough sell, with surveys repeatedly suggesting that patients were suspicious that their data would be compromised or shared without their permission. Others seemingly just weren’t impressed with the concept.

Of late, however, it seems that the public has caught up, and may be well ahead of the provider community in its enthusiasm for digitizing medical records.  According to a new survey by GfK Roper, 78 percent of patients believe an EMR will allow doctors to give them better care whose doctors use EMRs believe that it helps the doctor provide better care.

According to Practice Fusion, an EMR vendor which backed the survey, patients are eager to get e-mailed appointment reminders, have their prescriptions sent electronically and view appointments online.

But wait a minute. Even if backing by a vendor hasn’t tilted the results, this kind of study doesn’t necessarily mean that patients really want an EMR as such.

My guess is that the folks surveyed by Roper have caught wind of a few cool things that more advanced medical practices and hospitals are doing (such as telemedicine, making test results accessible online and appointment scheduling) and they want in. Everybody likes convenience, no?

Somehow, I doubt they’re thinking about care coordination, sharing of medical records from one institution to another across an HIE, integrating data from various departments within a facility, creating data warehouses to do quality studies and so on.  They’re just starting to get a feel for the bells and whistles, some of which don’t even require an EMR to execute.

No, the truth is that it most Americans will never understand the clinical problems EMRs are designed to solve, as most will never delve into issues like risk analysis and patient safety management.  So their interest will inevitably flag.

But for now, we’ve got their attention. This is a moment — the EMR’s “15 minutes of fame” — in which the buzz is so intense that even consumers are getting excited.

Providers, now is the time:  Reach out and educate consumers on the value of your EMR investment while they’re still interested.  This moment may not come again.

UPDATE: As you’ll see above, Practice Fusion was kind enough to correct my understanding of a key part of of the study.  The idea that patients whose doctors already have EMRs in place are happy about it is different, of course, than saying that consumers generally want doctors to hurry up and adopt one. That being said, I’d still argue that even these patients are at a gee-whiz stage, and that their enthusiasm won’t last long. What do you think?