Impact of patient access to their electronic health record: systematic review

Inform Health Soc Care. 2021 Jun 2;46(2):192-204. doi: 10.1080/17538157.2021.1879810. Epub 2021 Apr 10.


Patient access to their own electronic health records (EHRs) is likely to become an integral part of healthcare systems worldwide. It has the potential to decrease the healthcare provision costs, improve access to healthcare data, self-care, quality of care, and health and patient-centered outcomes. This systematic literature review is aimed at identifying the impact in terms of benefits and issues that have so far been demonstrated by providing patients access to their own EHRs, via providers' secure patient portals from primary healthcare centers and hospitals. Searches were conducted in PubMed, MEDLINE, CINHAL, and Google scholar. Over 2000 papers were screened and were filtered based on duplicates, then by reading the titles and finally based on their abstracts or full text. In total, 74 papers were retained, analyzed, and summarized. Papers were included if providing patient access to their own EHRs was the primary intervention used in the study and its impact or outcome was evaluated. The search technique used to identify relevant literature for this paper involved input from five experts. While findings from 54 of the 74 papers showed positive outcome or benefits of patient access to their EHRs via patient portals, 10 papers have highlighted concerns, 8 papers have highlighted both and 2 have highlighted absence of negative outcomes. The benefits range from re-assurance, reduced anxiety, positive impact on consultations, better doctor-patient relationship, increased awareness and adherence to medication, and improved patient outcomes (e.g., improving blood pressure and glycemic control in a range of study populations). In addition, patient access to their health information was found to improve self-reported levels of engagement or activation related to self-management, enhanced knowledge, and improve recovery scores, and organizational efficiencies in a tertiary level mental health care facility. However, three studies did not find any statistically significant effect of patient portals on health outcomes. The main concerns have been around security, privacy and confidentiality of the health records, and the anxiety it may cause amongst patients. This literature review identified some benefits, concerns, and attitudes demonstrated by providing patients' access to their own EHRs. This access is often part of government strategies when developing patient-centric self-management elements of a sustainable healthcare system. The findings of this review will give healthcare providers a framework to analyze the benefits offered by promoting patient access to EHRs and decide on the best approach for their own specialties and clinical setup. A robust cost-benefit evaluation of such initiatives along with its impact on major stakeholders within the healthcare system would be essential in understanding the overall impact of such initiatives. Implementation of patient access to their EHRs could help governments to appropriately prioritize the development or adoption of national standards, whilst taking care of local variations and fulfilling the healthcare needs of the population, e.g., UK Government is aiming to make full primary care records available online to every patient. Ultimately, increasing transparency and promoting personal responsibility are key elements of a sustainable healthcare system for future generations.

Keywords: Electronic healthcare record; access to EHRs; benefits; literature review; patient access; patient portals.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Confidentiality
  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Patient Portals*
  • Physician-Patient Relations