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Patients Interested in Secure Patient Data Access via Smartphone

By Sara Heath

– A majority of adult patients want better patient data access, with the bulk of them saying they’d like to download their own medical records to their smartphones, according to a new poll conducted by Pew Charitable Trusts.

The survey of a little more than 1,200 adult patients also showed patients want better federal health data security guidelines and increased interoperability between disparate medical providers.

On the whole, 61 percent of patients said they want access to their own health data, specifically by downloading those medical records to a smartphone app separate from a mobile patient portal. Older adults were less likely to say so, although more than half (53 percent) of those ages 56 to 74 still said they’d like smartphone access to their electronic medical records.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents said they’d like to be able to download their imaging files, like results from a CT scan, onto their smartphones.

At the same time, patients are still wary about their health data privacy, especially with apps not affiliated with their medical providers.

READ MORE: Most Patients Understand Clinical Notes, Patient Data Access

Nine in 10 patients expressed some concern when they learned not every smartphone app to which they might download their medical data would be covered under HIPAA. This means that not every smartphone app would be responsible for providing the privacy protections elucidated under the 1996 law.

Medical providers may be able to work around that issue, Pew advised. For example, clinicians could create a list of pre-approved apps that they know are HIPAA-compliant and beneficial to patient engagement. Offering this list of recommendations could guide patients toward apps that patients know are safe for their patient privacy.

After all, patients do express considerable preference for apps that come with their providers’ seals of approval. Seventy-six percent of patients said they are “totally comfortable” downloading their medical information to an app that comes pre-approved by their doctor or hospital.

Sixty-one percent said the same about apps approved by an independent review board. Only 15 percent are totally comfortable downloading their health data to apps that have not been reviewed by anybody.

What’s more, patients are largely in favor of health data sharing and interoperability between disparate medical providers. Eighty-one percent of respondents said they support enabling patient data sharing between different clinicians and hospitals.

READ MORE: 74% of Providers Approve of OpenNotes, Patient Data Access

“Generally, respondents support sharing key information that federal interoperability policies don’t currently prioritize,” the researchers reported. “For example, more than two-thirds want their different doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to share advanced care plans or end-of-life preferences, images, and family medical histories.”

Patients do have a few reservations, however. For example, some patients expressed concern about how data about substance use disorder or certain social determinants of health might play with different medical providers. Seventy-five percent of patients are comfortable sharing social determinants of health information with their own providers, but only 48 percent are comfortable with other providers having access to this data.

Broken down by race, that shakes out to 53 percent of White people and 41 percent of non-White people who are comfortable sharing social determinants of health data with other providers.

Notably, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of patients came out in support of patient matching, or the practice of linking one’s medical records at one facility with those in another facility. Those patients agreed federal funds may go toward investigating a national patient identifier (NPI), which could enable patient matching.

This comes amidst great debate regarding federal NPI funding, which has largely been blocked by individuals expressing data privacy concerns.

READ MORE: Patient Data Access Helps Patients Detect Potential EHR Errors

Patients said they are largely in favor of some sort of patient identifying code, much like a Social Security number. Fewer, but still a majority of, patients said they’d support a smartphone or app, eye scans, or facial photos to enable patient matching.

Again, support for biometrics for patient matching had some racial disparities. Non-White patients were less supportive of biometric strategies, potentially out of concern that such biometric could be used for adverse purposes.

The COVID-19 outbreak may have had something to do with these results, the researchers said. The survey was fielded as the novel coronavirus was spreading across the US, and most patients said the viral outbreak made the more likely to approve of patient data sharing between disparate providers.

This logic tracks. Patients, who may end up in a hospital they would not usually visit, would want clinicians there to have seamless access to their medical records.

But patients also said the pandemic had little impact on their desires to access their own medical data and their approval of patient matching solutions.

The impacts of COVID-19 notwithstanding, this survey data further emphasizes patient activation in care. Patients are increasingly recognizing the utility of them accessing their own health records, and want federal mandates that make that access easier and more secure.


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