Patient awareness of HIEs and EHRs reveals lack of information

Health information technology has experienced mostly evolution rather than revolution. In the mental healthcare community, the adoption of behavioral health software to aid coordinated care platforms has been gradual. And the use of health information exchange has especially lagged.

For most of the medical community, HIE is not a new term. It’s been one of the primary end goals of health IT since the beginning. But certain issues stand in the way of wider HIE use, and one of the most prominent is patient awareness.

What do patients know about EHR and HIE?

The Pennsylvania eHealth Partnership Authority recently released data from a statewide survey of everyday patients that asked about their perception of health IT, with an emphasis on HIE and its benefits.

The findings indicated that a high level of importance was placed on both health IT and HIE overall by patients, despite numerous disparities in topical awareness. According to PA eHealth group, 71 percent of patients believed it was important that electronic health record systems allow patients access to their personal health records, while 90 percent had the opinion that state and federal policy protections were important to have in place for EHR implementation.

Despite these strong opinions about EHR software, the survey indicated that the knowledge gap for patients regarding HIE was much greater. As an example, less than 50 percent of patients were aware of the benefits HIE could offer, as described in the survey. And only 28 percent of all respondents were aware that the medical community – private and federal – was in the process of establishing standards for HIE. The PA eHealth group noted that even with EHR systems, which patients seemed generally to know a lot about, awareness of potential benefits was relatively low. However, despite this, 71 percent of surveyed patients reported that their physicians use EHR software.

Breaking down the demographics

The PA eHealth group analyzed the data for any statistically significant tends, using five demographic factors: gender, age, race, income and education.

The group found that gender wasn’t a significant factor, and both race and income were minimally influential. But age and education stood out as significant differentiators. For the most part, awareness of health IT topics increased alongside level of education, as did the perceived importance of health IT generally, though the effect on the latter was less pronounced.

With regard to age, how old a surveyed patient was significantly impacted the “channel” through which he or she received educational information about health IT. Across the board, Internet, TV, radio, newspapers and magazines were major channels of communication. But, physicians topped the list as the No. 1 source of education, while less than half of the respondents said their insurance companies offered insight. Not surprisingly, mobile apps and social media were more important channels of education for younger people, but showed relatively little purpose for the majority of patients surveyed.

The group polled a total of 1,144 people by telephone and online, with a majority of respondents between the ages of 34 and 56. Part of the impetus behind the survey was a recent $8.9 million contract the state of Pennsylvania recently paid out to a Michigan health IT company to connect its 11 regional and state HIEs and four health information service providers, according to MedCity News.

If ignorance is the enemy, the groups survey has given it a sneak peak at the battlefield. Building EHR and HIE awareness among patients is sure to be as slow a process – evolution as opposed to revolution – as it has been for doctors gradually adopting new software and digital workflows, but it’s an integral step forward, especially in mental health fields.

A video on the PA eHealth website – made specifically for patients – spells out that not only is HIE secure, it’s integral to coordinated care. This circle of individuals is composed of stakeholders, from primary care doctors to psychiatrists to social workers, family, parole officers, EMTs and other members of the healthcare community, both in the private and public sectors. The coordinated care circle shrinks or expands for each patient, but the coordinated care platform remains interconnected and secure.