July 18, 2024

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Patient preferences for accessing medical data are shifting, says ONC

3 min read

To track the use of web-based patient portals and smartphone applications by patients seeking their health information, the U.S. Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT released an analysis of Health Information National Trends Survey data, which regularly gathers data on many aspects of health communications.


There are a number of highlights in ONC’s new publication, Individuals’ Access and Use of Patient Portals and Smartphone Health Apps, by Catherine Strawley and Chelsea Richwine, that details how access to medical records “has increased consistently over time.”

The agency said in the data brief it used HINTS to assess progress in patient access amidst the implementation of Cures Rule provisions during the COVID-19 pandemic, “which likely increased demand for access to online medical records.”

In the analysis, ONC said that the share of individuals nationwide who were offered and accessed their online medical records or patient portals more than doubled between 2014 and 2022. 

Previously, the National Institutes of Health compared how Americans report increasing their usage of patient data access tools. In HINTS brief 52 – focused on communication, access and use of patient portals – NIH said that while “significant disparities exist in patient portal use with underserved groups,” data from 2019 and 2020 found that 45% of Americans who had a health visit in the past 12 months reported accessing a patient portal, compared to 31.4% in 2018 and 25.6% in 2014.

Further analysis by ONC found that more than half of individuals who were offered online access to their medical records reported accessing them at least three times last year, with nearly one in three accessing them six or more times.

“In 2022, only 1 in 5 individuals reported not accessing their online medical records in the past year, a more than 50 percent reduction since 2017,” Strawley and Richwine wrote.

They noted that HINTS data showed that the most common drivers behind access to online medical records last year were viewing test results and clinical notes, and that the more patients sought to access their patient data, the more likely they were to use an app.

“Individuals’ use of apps to access their online medical records increased significantly between 2020 and 2022, while only web-based access to portals decreased,” said Strawley and Richwine.

ONC published the Cures Act Final Rule to broaden patient and provider access to health-related data, specifically through health IT developer adoption of secure standardized APIs. The API requirements, which rolled out to healthcare providers earlier this year, enables patients to electronically access their electronic health information using apps. 

HINTS is a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults from the civilian, non-institutionalized population that tracks changes in the health communication and information technology landscape, according to NIH. 


“Portal use has been associated with improvements in health-related outcomes, including medication adherence, understanding of medical conditions, disease self-management and shared decision-making,” the NIH noted in its July HINTS brief.

While patients have been using portals to download their medical records, and tech giants like Apple developed patient health record apps for them, they also want health data access with usability.

The Sequoia Project’s Consumer Voices Workgroup said in July their consumer research found that patients are not always able to understand the medical records they have access to.

“People want plain language results and reports so they can be more engaged in managing their Health,” Sequoia Project said in a statement. 

“Until reports are written for consumption by patients, the full benefits of patient access to their health records will not be achieved.” 


“Individuals who used an app to access their online medical records accessed them more frequently,” ONC said.

Andrea Fox is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Email: [email protected]

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.


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