Role of EMRs shifting from data vessel to decision tool

October 1, 2013

A global Accenture study shows patients want access to EMRs so they can get more involved in their care

While the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) is rising, observers are examining the ultimate value and ideal use of health IT systems. A global study by Accenture recently found that U.S. physicians agree that health IT is beneficial, but cost remains a barrier to adoption.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the federal government began offering financial assistance to providers that adopted health IT and put it to meaningful use. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has handed out $9.5 billion to Medicare providers and $6 billion to Medicaid providers in incentive payments as of July.

Kaveh Safavi JD, MD, managing director of Accenture’s North America health business, says use of health IT has increased 32% since 2012, even with the cost concerns. And the benefits are broad enough to justify the investment.

“It’s worth noting that the Meaningful Use mandates introduced an unintentional benefit for EMRs,” Dr. Safavi says. “The role of an EMR has shifted from a mere clinical repository to a platform for shared decision-making among patients and doctors. This matters because when consumers are part of the record-keeping process, it can increase their understanding of conditions, improve motivation and serve as a clear differentiator for clinical care.”

Providers have long been resistant to allowing patient access to medical records for a variety of reasons, including the risk of misunderstanding, which could cause undue anxiety for patients. Dr. Safavi says a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study last year found that patients who were able to review open medical notes reported a better understanding of their health conditions, felt more in control of their care and improved their engagement.

“Currently, four out of five consumers-84%-believe they should have full access to their EMR, while only one-third-31%-of doctors share this belief,” he says.

Patients tend to have the most access to their physicians’ healthcare IT capabilities in Singapore, the United States and Spain, according to the Accenture study. For instance, the United States reports 43% of consumers are able to access their electronic medical records, 48% refill prescriptions electronically, and 36% email physicians. Providers in France were the least likely to offer any of these services to patients, ranging from 8% to 16%.

U.S. physicians increasingly use systems for patient-information recordkeeping, alerts and reminders. For example, 78% of respondents say they used health IT to enter patient notes in 2012, as opposed to just 58% in 2011. The trend for use of administrative e-tools, however, declined from 61% in 2011 to 55% in 2012.

Top benefits of health IT for physicians include reduced medical errors and improved diagnostic decisions. Fewer physicians believe health IT helps them see more patients or achieve better work-life balance, however.

The most surprising finding of the Accenture study was that 41% of U.S. consumers would be willing to switch doctors to gain access to their electronic medical records, according to Dr. Safavi.

“This finding suggests a latent demand that we expect will become more evident in the market as capabilities emerge to help support decisions and information management,” he says. “The reality is that consumers have the ability to self-manage many areas of their lives, and we expect that an EMR will soon have an integral role in patient engagement.”