Are Patients Electronically Accessing Their Medical Records? Evidence From National Hospital Data

Health Aff (Millwood). 2019 Nov;38(11):1850-1857. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2018.05437.


Substantial policy effort has been directed at improving patients' ability to access and use electronic health records. Using nationwide data from 2,410 hospitals for the period 2014-16, we examined associations between patient- and hospital-level characteristics and access to and use of electronic health record data among discharged patients. On average, hospitals gave 95 percent of discharged patients access to view, download, and transmit their information, but only about 10 percent of those with access used it-levels that were stagnant during the study period. Access rates were highest among system-member, teaching, and for-profit hospitals. In contrast, access rates were lower for hospitals in the highest quartile for disproportionate share hospital status and for hospitals located in counties with high proportions of residents who were dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid; use rates were lower for hospitals in counties with a high proportion of residents who were dually eligible, lacked computer or internet access, or were Hispanic. Overall, our findings suggest that policy efforts have failed to engage a large proportion of patients in the electronic use of their data or to bridge the "digital divide" that accompanies health care disparities. Additional-possibly targeted-policy incentives, as well as higher thresholds for meeting the requirements of the Promoting Interoperability Program, merit policy makers' consideration.

Keywords: Access and use; Access to care; Electronic medical records; Health policy; Hospitals; Meaningful use; Medicaid patients; Medicare eligibility; Patient engagement; Patient safety.

MeSH terms

  • Access to Information*
  • Databases, Factual*
  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Hospitals* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Patients*
  • United States