Survey says: Physicians, patients agree on healthcare IT priorities

Feb. 3, 2011

New York, N.Y. (January 31, 2011) – Doctors and patients overwhelmingly agree on key requirements for information technology (IT) to increase the quality, safety and cost efficiency of care, as well as core privacy protections, according to a national survey released today by the Markle Foundation.

The Markle Survey of Health in a Networked Life is the first of its kind to compare the core values of physicians and the general public, referred to here also as patients based on their opinions as consumers of healthcare, on deployment of information technology in healthcare. It comes at the start of a new federal program to help doctors and hospitals upgrade from paper to electronic health records.

“Doctors and patients agree on the importance of putting accurate information in their hands to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of healthcare,” says Zoë Baird, Markle’s president.

“A surprising 74 percent of doctors say they want to be able to share patient information with other professionals electronically. As medical professionals shift from paper records to electronic systems, this survey shows that the public and physicians overwhelmingly agree that we need to measure the payoff from investments in information technology in terms of better health and more cost-efficient care,” Baird says.

Agreement between doctors and the public was strongest on requirements to ensure that new federal health IT incentives will be well spent. The funding was included in the stimulus bill passed by Congress in 2009.

“Roughly 80 percent majorities of both the public and doctors agreed that it’s important to require participating hospitals and doctors to share information to better coordinate care, cut unnecessary costs, and reduce medical errors,” says Carol Diamond, MD, MPH, managing director at the New York-based nonprofit foundation.

“By the same overwhelming margin, four in five doctors and patients expressed the importance of privacy protections for online medical records, an expectation we have repeatedly found on the part of the public in our previous surveys,” Diamond says. “They also agree on the importance of measuring progress. This survey is a powerful indication that the public and physicians alike want investments in health IT to come with accountability.”

Key information lost in healthcare conversations

Of the doctors surveyed, 94 percent said their patients at least sometimes forget or lose track of potentially important things they are told during doctor visits, and 34 percent of the doctors said they themselves at least sometimes forget or lose track of potentially important things that their patients tell them. Among the patient group, 30 percent perceived that their doctors forget or lose track of potentially important information at least sometimes.

The Markle Survey of Health in a Networked Life also found that:

  • Among the doctors, 74 percent would prefer computer-based means of sharing patient information with each other. (Only 17 percent of doctors predominantly use such means today.)
  • Nearly half (47 percent) of the doctors would prefer computer-based means of sharing records with their patients. (Only 5 percent do so today.)
  • Yet 74 percent of doctors said patients should be able to share their information electronically with their doctors and other practitioners.
  • Among the public, 10 percent reported currently having an electronic personal health record (PHR) – up from 3 percent who reported having one in Markle’s 2008 survey.
  • Roughly two in three of both groups (70 percent of the public and 65 percent of the doctors) agreed that patients should be able to download their personal health information online.
  • And 70 percent of the public said patients should get a written or online summary after each doctor visit, but only 36 percent of the doctors agreed. (Only 4 percent of doctors say that they currently provide all their patients a summary after every visit.)

“Our past surveys show that most US adults believe personal health records that include copies of their own medical information would help them improve their health and communicate better with health professionals,” says Josh Lemieux, director of personal health technology at Markle. “With this survey, we find an increase in PHR use and learn that roughly two in three doctors agree that patients should have the option of online access to their personal health information. The survey also confirms that having modern information tools comes with expectations for privacy protections.”

Results are available at www.markle.org/publications/1437-large-majorities-public-and-physicians-agree-information-sharing-priorities-health.

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