Could Privacy and Security Concerns Cloud the Future for EHR and HIE?

Stephen Cobb
Stephen Cobb

By Stephen Cobb, senior researcher, ESET North America.

The benefits of making health records available electronically would seem to be obvious. For a start, faster access to more accurate patient information – which is one of the promises of EHRs (electronic health records) and HIEs (health information exchanges) – could save lives. The author of a recent report on the many thousands of lethal “patient adverse events” that occur in America every year, Dr. John T. James, pointed to “more accurate and streamlined medical recordkeeping” as a top priority in the effort to reduce these deadly medical errors. Yet headlines about healthcare facilities exposing confidential patient data to potential abuse have been all over the media this year. So, will security issues and privacy concerns stymie EHR adoption or slow down HIE rollouts?

Today, more than half of all Americans probably have at least some part of their medical record stored on computer. In January, the CDC reported that roughly four out of five office-based physicians are now using some type of EHR system, up from one in five in 2001. A few months later, in a Harris poll sponsored by ESET, only 17 percent of adult Americans said that, to their knowledge, their health records were not in electronic format.

During that same survey of 1,734 American adults, we asked “are you concerned about the security and privacy of your electronic patient health records” and 40 percent said they were. Slightly more of them, 43 percent said they were not. However, if we take out the 17 percent whose records were not in electronic format, the “concerned or not?” question breaks down as 48 percent Yes, versus 50 percent No, a statistical tie.

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New Meaningful Use Rule Allows “Flexibility” In Certified EHR Technology for 2014

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a new meaningful use rule that allows healthcare providers “more flexibility” in how they use certified electronic health record (EHR) technology (CEHRT) to meet meaningful use for an EHR Incentive Program reporting period for 2014. According to the HHS’ statement, “by providing this flexibility, more providers will be able to participate and meet important meaningful use objectives like drug interaction and drug allergy checks, providing clinical summaries to patients, electronic prescribing, reporting on key public health data and reporting on quality measures.”

“We listened to stakeholder feedback and provided CEHRT flexibility for 2014 to help ensure providers can continue to participate in the EHR Incentive Programs forward,” said Marilyn Tavenner, CMS administrator. “We were excited to see that there is overwhelming support for this change.”

Based on public comments and feedback from stakeholders, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) identified ways to help eligible professionals, eligible hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs) implement and meaningfully use Certified EHR Technology. Specifically, eligible providers can use the 2011 Edition CEHRT or a combination of 2011 and 2014 Edition CEHRT for an EHR reporting period in 2014 for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs; All eligible professionals, eligible hospitals, and CAHs are required to use the 2014 Edition CEHRT in 2015.

These updates to the EHR Incentive Programs support HHS’ commitment to implementing an effective health information technology infrastructure that elevates patient-centered care, improves health outcomes, and supports the providers that care for patients.

The rule also finalizes the extension of Stage 2 through 2016 for certain providers and announces the Stage 3 timeline, which will begin in 2017 for providers who first became meaningful EHR users in 2011 or 2012.

For more information about the EHR Incentive Programs, visit http://www.cms.gov/EHRIncentivePrograms. For more information about CEHRT, visit http://www.healthit.gov.

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CHIME Issues Statement on Finalization of Meaningful Use “Modifications” Rule

As the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) finalized a regulation granting providers additional flexibility in meeting meaningful use (MU) requirements in 2014, the final rule lacked a key provision that would ensure continued EHR adoption and MU participation, according to CHIME.

CHIME issued as statement stating that the organization is “deeply disappointed in the decision made by CMS and ONC to require 365 days of EHR reporting in 2015. This single provision has severely muted the positive impacts of this final rule. Further, it has all but ensured that industry struggles will continue well beyond 2014.”

According to the statement by CHIME, roughly 50 percent of EHs and CAHs were scheduled to meet Stage 2 requirements this year and nearly 85 percent of EHs and CAHs will be required to meet Stage 2 requirements in 2015. Most hospitals who take advantage of new pathways made possible through this final rule will not be in a position to meet Stage 2 requirements beginning October 1, 2014. This means that penalties avoided in 2014 will come in 2015, and millions of dollars will be lost due to misguided government timelines.

Nearly every stakeholder group echoed recommendations made by CHIME to give providers the option of reporting any three-month quarter EHR reporting period in 2015. “This sensible recommendation, if taken, would have assuaged industry concerns over the pace and trajectory of rulemaking; it would have pushed providers to meet a higher bar, without pushing them off the cliff; and it would have ensured the long-term vitality of the program itself. Now, the very future of Meaningful Use is in question,” said CHIME.

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The Four Reasons Why EHR Sharing Remains Low

Divan Dave'
Divan Dave

Guest post by Divan Dave, CEO, OmniMD.

Reports state that only 39 percent of physicians share data using a health information exchange (HIE). There is even a lower number of only 14 percent who electronically share data with ambulatory care providers or hospitals outside their organization. While these numbers may seem astounding to some with Stage 2 fast approaching — the reason is clear. Because even though providers want to share health information electronically they are hindered by EHRs that can’t communicate with one another, lack information-exchange infrastructure, and the high expense of setting up electronic interfaces and health information exchanges.

Below are the top reasons why EHR sharing remains low for adoption:

Lack of Interoperability. The majority of providers and physicians have acknowledged lack of EHR interoperability and exchange infrastructure as major barriers to health information exchange. They have also identified the cost of creating and maintaining interfaces and exchanges as a major barrier.

Lack of Advanced Technology. Over the last few years, various HIE systems have been developed, but many have failed for technological and organizational reasons. High-level issues must be addressed to implement an HIE successfully, including disparate EHR and HIS systems. Most previous HIE research focused on high-level issues and evaluating impact on healthcare delivery, ROI, Syndromic Surveillance, etc.

Lack of Security and Streamlining. Quantitative measures are crucial to the long-term sustainability of HIEs. Interoperability of patient data doesn’t effectively address concerns on privacy, productivity, workflow and costs. Streamlining HIE access through integration with electronic health records to minimize workflow interruption, and keeping costs reasonably low for providers, may increase participation.

Lack of Affordability and Productivity. The cost and loss of productivity are major barriers to HIE adoption. While there are many compliant products on the market, not all of them provide cost savings and lead to efficiency or increased productivity.

The purpose of EHR and HIE is to make patient specific information available at the point of care to improve the delivery and quality of care. Interoperability of patient data no doubt has many advantages, including improved care coordination, elimination of paperwork, reduction in duplicate tests and reduction of medical errors. It is imperative to develop a long-term plan for standards and interoperability that will support competing public and private-sector Interoperability efforts. We should also encourage clear regulation on compliance with federal privacy and security laws. There should also be national benchmarking to share best practices and lessons learned. There should be significant cooperation among primary-care providers, medical specialists, long term care providers and hospitals to outline common information sharing needs promoting a value-based care.

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Medicaid Enterprise Systems Conference Tracks Enterprise Health IT Progress and Goals

Adnan Ahmed
Adnan Ahmed

Guest post by Adnan Ahmed, president of the health IT solutions provider CNSI.

Each year, health IT experts and state health officials from across the country convene at the Medicaid Enterprise Systems Conference (MESC) to discuss the latest technology solutions for serving a diverse and growing Medicaid population.

This year’s event was held the week of August 18 in Denver, CO, bringing together state, federal and private sector individuals who provided the latest insights for the exchange of ideas related to Medicaid systems technology.

With seven million new Medicaid recipients this past year alone, state Medicaid systems face the challenge of onboarding a high volume of newly enrolled recipients, but also benefit from the opportunity to collect a wealth of data that IT systems can utilize to help government health and human services departments optimize managed health care and patient service.

While Medicaid has long been known simply as a system of payments, IT solutions increasingly present the transformative ability to develop and experiment with new value add-ons that will introduce cost-cutting efficiencies while also improving patient care.

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UC Berkeley: Electronic Health Records and the Data of Healthcare

The following is a fascinating infographic from UC Berkeley School of Information highlighting, very nicely, the information contained in an EHR; the difference between an EMR and an EHR; top specialties to adopt electronic health records, as well as top (and not top) states to adopt the technology.

The information here clearly speaks for itself. According to Berkeley’s School of Information, “data science holds great promise for patient health, but patient data is only actionable in so far as it is digital. This is where EHRs come in. By 2019, the majority of physicians will have adopted a basic EHR system, and with good reason, too. EHRs may reduce outpatient care costs by 3 percent.

This “Electronic Health Records & the Data of Health Care” infographic from datascience@berkeley explores the health data revolution; if nothing else, I thought it was worth a share.

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The Blinding Snowstorm of Alert Fatigue: Three Keys to Improved Medication Alert Effectiveness

George Robinson
George Robinson

George Robinson, RPh, senior product manager, First Databank.

Approximately $20 billion is lost annually in the United States because of medication errors, with the average hospitalized patient subject to at least one medication mistake per day.Alert fatigue is often cited as a reason for these errors—even though alerts generated by clinical decision support (CDS) systems call attention to important information (such as potential drug interactions), excessive alerts wear clinicians down, resulting in boy-who-cries-wolf scenarios. The result: clinicians instinctively override the alerts instead of implementing an override monitoring plan.

Consider the following:

  • In 2009, researchers at the Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute looked at the safety alerts generated by 2,872 clinicians through 3.5 million electronic prescriptions over a nine-month period. Of the 233,537 alerts, 98 percent were drug-drug interaction issues, and more than 90 percent were overridden.
  • A more recent 2013 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, showed improved override rates with only about half of alerts overridden by providers, with half of those overrides classified as appropriate. Authors concluded that further refinement of these alerts could improve relevance and reduce alert fatigue.

A Driver in Need of a Clearer View

The afore-mentioned studies conclude that clinicians are indeed overriding medication alerts at alarming rates. Although the industry has made significant progress in addressing alert fatigue during the time the data from these studies was being analyzed, these studies clearly support what most healthcare professionals already suspect: The practice of ignoring and overriding medication alerts is widespread and can potentially lead to undesirable consequences.

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What Is Patient Engagement: Health IT Leaders Define the Term

The term “patient engagement” has emerged as this year’s buzz phrase much the same way “patient portals” were a couple years ago and even similar to “electronic health records” and “meaningful use” before that. Volumes of articles, case studies, white papers and educational sessions have been dedicated to the topic of patient engagement and even at this years’ annual HIMSS conference patient engagement as a topic discussed was the rule and not the exception. With every step through the maze of booths in Orlando it seemed as if the words – “patient engagement” — were whispered and shouted from every direction.

Patient engagement is now synonymous with health IT, yet the topic is proving to be one of healthcare’s stickiest wickets because no matter whom or how many people you ask there seems to be a different response or definition to the term and how it is achieved.

With all of this uncertainty and confusion about patient engagement, I set out to see if I could define the term by asking a number of health IT insiders what they thought “patient engagement” meant, or what it meant to them. Their insightful and educational responses are what follow.

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Health IT Startup: CrowdMed

Jessica Greenwalt, co-founder
Jessica Greenwalt, co-founder

CrowdMed is a website that uses the “wisdom of crowds” to solve medical cases quickly and accurately online. We provide a place for patients to post their symptoms and broadcast their cases to our medical detective community, which includes doctors, med students and patients themselves. Our medical detectives collaborate to solve each case and suggest possible diagnoses. Our system assigns a probability to each diagnosis based on our research and the behavior of the medical detectives who worked on the case. Once enough medical detectives have participated in a case, we deliver an extensive report to the patient. Just like that, we’ve gotten a patent a second, third, 50th opinion without any invasive tests and unnecessary doctor visits.

We tested our system on cases with known diagnoses that cost patients hundreds of thousands of dollars, lasted many years, and taken dozens doctors to solve—my case included. We were able to solve these cases in a matter of weeks, at a fraction of the cost.

Now we’ve helped diagnose 200 of the world’s most difficult medical cases, and that’s only the beginning. By designing a site that simplifies complex medical data, connects patients with the people who understand this data, and uses statistics and technology to uncover answers, we’re making medical diagnoses more accessible to everyone.

Elevator pitch

We’re crowdsourcing medical diagnoses.

Founders’ story

During my junior year of college I got sick. My appetite disappeared. I had difficulty remembering things. I always felt cold, and I started losing my hair.

I visited the university health center. They sent me to a doctor, who sent me to a specialist, who sent me to more specialists for testing. I was biopsied, scanned and blood tested—often multiple times a month. The uncertainty, stress and financial burden this placed on me was crippling—especially as a college student.

After months of poking and prodding, I finally got my diagnosis: a thyroid disorder with a very simple treatment. I take one pill in the morning, every day. Compared to all the terrible possible diagnoses and treatments my doctors were considering, this was a huge relief. The process of finding the name for my condition, so that I could get the proper treatment, turned out to be far more painful than the treatment itself.

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Top 10 Tech Trends Every Hospital and Healthcare Professional Should Know About

Bill Balderaz
Bill Balderaz

Guest post by Bill Balderaz, president, Fathom Healthcare.

What’s next?

No matter what the discussion is or who you are talking with, this often seems to be the big question. It’s not enough to say “what;” what matters is, “What’s Next?”

Healthcare: This area is the largest, fastest growing and perhaps the fastest changing element of our economy and lives. As a result, just about every conversation we have about healthcare involves a “What’s next?” discussion.

At Fathom, we have the privilege of spending a lot of time exploring what’s next in healthcare marketing and communications. Based on our conversations, observations and research, here is a list of the top 10 tech trends every hospital and healthcare professional should know about.

Predictive analytics. Real time isn’t fast enough. Predictive analytics—or the systematic use of data to predict patient behavior—will usher a big shift in the quality of care. By analyzing hospital data, social media conversations and search patterns, hospitals can predict patient behavior and needs. Hospitals can predict and be ready for flu outbreaks. By analyzing historical admissions data, weather patterns and census data, hospitals can predict emergency room volume and staff for it. Healthcare systems can even look ahead 10 or 20 years and predict the need for cancer care or assisted-living facilities with population data.

Wearables. Wearable devices can monitor blood pressure, heart rate, insulin levels and more. Forget the simple devices we use today: The next generation of wearables will elevate health monitoring to the next level. All this information can also be shared in real time with a healthcare provider, making it part of a larger trend: Partnership between patients and providers.

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What’s Next for Health IT Right Now

Given the tremendous and on-going changes currently taking place in health IT, especially the recent delay in ICD-10, and the ever on-going issues surrounding meaningful use, we remain in a turbulent, yet revolutionary time in the industry. As changes continue to come and behaviors, habits, further reform is activated and enforced, there will only be more of a focus on where we are headed from a technology standpoint.

Given the multiple balls health IT leaders are currently juggling and the rapid changes they are facing from new technology and managing tools that were once thought to be saviors of the sector – patient portals come to mind – I and they are left to wonder what’s next for health IT. With that lingering question, I asked a few folks working directly in the space what they think will occupy the minds of health IT leaders for the short term.

Divan Dave
Divan Dave

Divan Dave, CEO, OmniMD

The delay in ICD-10 implementation was met with equal parts relief and frustration. As the healthcare IT industry is evolving, government and regulatory authorities have come up with several certifications to enhance the quality of care for patients. For example, meaningful use incentives have created an artificial market for dozens of immature EHR products. Many EHR vendors have been preoccupied with backlogged implementations and have neglected the usability and innovation of their EHR products. Most concerning to current EHR users are unmet pleas for sophisticated interfaces with other practice programs and complex connectivity, pacing with accountable care progresses and the rapid EHR adoption of mobile devices. Many popular “one size fits all” EHR products have failed to meet the needs of several medical specialties.

Distracted by the process of certifying their EHR products for Stage 2 of meaningful use, not all software vendors have been able to deliver on their Meaningful Use 2 promises to anxious providers; 40 percent of the practices are replacing their EHR systems, as their current systems are cumbersome to use, not integrated, not able to meet regulatory compliance, outdated, have interoperability challenges, inefficient customer support, lacks specialty specific workflow and are not mobile enabled.

Stacy Leidwinger
Stacy Leidwinger

Stacy Leidwinger, vice president of product marketing, RES Software
A top concern in healthcare right now is securing patient health records. Although the clinical details themselves contain little financial value, the records contain personal patient details that can easily result in stolen identity or credit card information.

In the US, nearly 3 trillion dollars per year is spent on healthcare, which translates to everyone from physicians and pharmacists to well-organized crime syndicates targeting healthcare, usually through the use of stolen patient records and identities.

Two of the weakest points in healthcare security are 1) people tending to underestimate security risks, therefore, becoming vulnerable to social engineering, and 2) the fact that endpoints can’t be physically secured in many cases while continuing to provide needed value. Patients need to take a more serious approach in choosing a healthcare organization by making it clear that they “trust” their provider.

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Health IT Thought Leader Highlight: Lindy Benton, MEA|NEA

Lindy Benton
Lindy Benton

Lindy Benton, CEO of MEA|NEA, has worked in the healthcare information technology for more than 20 years. Before joining MEA|NEA, Lindy served as divisional executive at Sage Healthcare, managing 1,400 employees, and prior to that she worked at Cerner for 15 years. MEA|NEA has nearly 20 years’ experience in providing revenue cycle enhancement solutions for payers and providers, as well as managing the secure exchange of health information, providing critical functionality to payers, medical and dental providers and other agents. Its solutions facilitate secure electronic requests for medical records and documentation to connected network providers for payment integrity, risk adjustment, audit tracking, performance/quality measures, claim attachments and more. Similarly, its technology enables providers to gain productivity via the electronic capture, storage and submissions of healthcare documentation – and to more effectively manage their revenue cycle and reduce claim denials.

Here she speaks about MEA|NEA, electronic attachments and secure health information exchange, how MEA|NEA serves healthcare and some of the most pressing issues facing healthcare’s leaders today.

Tell me more about yourself and your role at MEA|NEA.

I have worked in the healthcare information technology for more than 20 years. I am currently the CEO of MEA|NEA, a provider of electronic attachment and health information exchange solution.

Who uses the company’s products, and how are they enhancing their health systems and practices?

We have three major client sets. One is providers. They represent the point of origin for most medical records. One is payers or managed care organizations. They are often the requestors of medical record information about the members enrolled in one of their health plans. And the third we call partners who are those organizations who sit in-between the originators of medical record information and the requestors of medical record information. The enhancements you ask about are intuitive and real. We enhance the exchange of medical record protected health information – or phi – by making it 100 percent electronic, trackable and auditable.

In what ways is MEA|NEA evolving and where are you seeing the most change, the most rapidly?

With the increased focus on outcomes in healthcare in America, we are seeing an increase in the demand for medical record reviews. We see this increasingly being driven by the federal government, but the commercial sector is also participating. There are companies whose sole purpose is to audit the care being provided to patient populations and the reimbursement of charges related to that care. “Payment integrity” is commonly referenced in the industry today, and that wasn’t the case until recently. We are leading in process efficiencies to support these changes.

Tell me more about your involvement with CMS. How have the company and its strategy changed since the adoption of electronic claims submission through Medicare?

In January 2012 we began delivering medical records to Medicare contractors as one of a few organizations certified by CMS to do so. Today there are 23 certified organizations and we are the largest serving the acute-care hospitals of the nation. We are the 2nd largest overall. Since 2012 we have been selected by four organizations who are listed on the www.cms.gov website as their technology partner. We have a strong relationship with key leaders inside of CMS and we plan to continue to invest there. With 15 percent of US healthcare being tied to Medicare, this is a key component of our future in the medical marketplace.

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The History of the Sustainable Growth Rate, and How Its Repeal and ACOs are Linked

Ken Perez
Ken Perez

Guest post by Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy, Omnicell.

Section 4503 of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, enacted on Aug. 5, 1997, replaced the Medicare Volume Performance Standard (MVPS) with the sustainable growth rate (SGR) provision, a formulaic approach intended to restrain the growth of Medicare spending on physician services. The SGR formula incorporates medical inflation, the projected growth of per capita gross domestic product (GDP), projected growth in the number of Medicare beneficiaries, and changes in law or regulation.

The SGR requires Medicare each year to set a total budget for spending on physician services for the following year. If actual spending exceeds that budget, the Medicare conversion factor that is applied to more than 7,400 unique covered physician and therapy services in subsequent years is to be reduced so that over time, cumulative actual spending will not exceed cumulative budgeted (targeted) spending, with April 1, 1996, as the starting point for both.

In part because of the effective lobbying efforts of physicians, Congress has temporarily suspended application of the SGR by passing legislative overrides or “doc fixes” 17 times from 2003 to 2014. (It utilized five different pieces of legislation in 2010 alone to avoid cuts exceeding 20 percent.) As a result, actual spending has exceeded budget every year during these years. Because the annual fee update must be adjusted not only for the prior year’s variance between budgeted and actual spending but also for the cumulative variance since 1996, the next proposed update, effective April 1, 2015, is a reduction in Medicare physician fees of 20.9 percent.

Those hoping for a permanent repeal of the SGR—which is pretty much everybody, given the almost universal disdain for it—entered 2014 with a sense of optimism that this would be the year. These hopes were fueled by bipartisan and bicameral support of SGR reform proposals that emerged at the end of 2013 and significantly lower estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) of the cost of a long-term doc fix.

Ultimately, the inability to figure out how to pay for the SGR repeal blocked the passage of the permanent reform bills, and Congress settled for yet another short-term patch. On March 27, 2014, the House of Representatives, under a suspension of normal rules, approved via a voice vote H.R. 4302, the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014. The bill provides a patch to the SGR that would avoid a 24.4 percent reduction to Medicare’s Physician Fee Schedule (PFS), effective April 1, 2014, replacing the scheduled reduction with a 0.5 percent increase to the PFS through Dec. 31, 2014, and a 0 percent increase for Jan. 1, 2015, through March 31, 2015. Four days later, the Senate approved H.R. 4302 on a bipartisan 64-35 vote, and President Barack Obama signed the bill into law.

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Top 20 Most Popular EHR Software Solutions

Love this recent image by Capterra, identifying the top 20 most popular EHR software solutions. As former vendor employee, these are the data that I was always forced to defend or promote. The company I once worked for is still among one of the top 10 vendors in the space, according to the following graphic, so I take some pride in having helped build it into what is today (if only marginally).

Perhaps this list is a bit subjective. Popularity of the vendor is measured by a combination of its total number of customers, users and social presence. So, even if the company’s products are not all that great (which may or may not be the case), at least they’re doing something right socially.

Capterra developed the list in part because of mass migration to EHRs — “Providers across the country are scrambling to make sure they’ve implemented the right EHR solution for their hospital or practice, while many more are still looking to identify the right solution.”

Capterra cites a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that states that nearly 40 percent of U.S. physicians adopted at least a basic electronic health record system, and according to another survey in 2013 by Black Book, one in six medical practices were in the process of changing from their first EHR solution.

Essentially, accordingly,  EHR solutions have to be “user-friendly, functional and able to withstand a growing market to retain customers.”

To determine these 20 electronic health record leaders, Capterra used a popularity index based on the number of customers, number of users, and social presence of each of the EHR companies.

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Study Shows Patients Unaware of Patient Portal Options

Increased engagement through patient portals remains a health initiative and a benchmark for meaningful use incentives, yet a large number of patients report being unaware of their ability to access medical information and communicate with healthcare providers through this medium.

A recent study by TechnologyAdvice shows nearly 40 percent of patients are unsure if their primary care physician has a patient portal website available, while another 11 percent are confident their physician “does not” offer one. In all, less than half of the 430 patients surveyed — 49.2 percent — report actually being shown a patient portal by their primary care physician either during a visit or outside a visit.

“With incentives tied to digital patient engagement and a general shift to integrated platforms taking place, all signals point to patient portals becoming increasingly prominent in the patient-physician relationship. However, it appears many physicians are not doing enough to educate patients about their portals and provide incentives for their use,” said TechnologyAdvice editorial coordinator Cameron Graham, who authored the study. “This lack of patient portal awareness appears to be slowing down a significant digital switch in patient-physician communication, considering the study also shows there is little change in the way patients prefer to interact with their doctors.”

Nearly 43 percent of patients say they prefer that doctors contact them by phone for general communication and to provide test results. These preferences are true even for the 18 through 24 age group, though, the younger respondents did report a greater preference for scheduling appointments online.

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