Nearly 80 percent of US citizens surveyed for a report have said they are concerned about electronic health records (EHRs) because their personal information might be stolen by hackers or lost.
US president Barack Obama has plans for an electronic patient record for all US citizens by 2015, and in the UK the highly troubled £11.7 billion NHS National Programme for IT is awaiting government reviews to see whether it will be scrapped or continued.
The online survey, conducted by Harris Interactive for Xerox, included 2,720 US adults, the majority of whom felt that their personal information could be misused if kept in an EHR.
The number one concern: hackers. "There's a lack of understanding about what EHRs are all about," said Paul Solverson, a partner with Xerox's strategic advisory services.
"All the stereotypical concerns with ID theft encroaches into the healthcare field. Although there is a track record [of data loss] for breaches, they're far less from hackers and more from media at rest being lost, such as a laptop or file being transmitted by accident."
Solverson believes the source of consumer angst over EHRs is the healthcare industry doing a woefully inadequate job of informing patients about the technology, its benefits and how it will actually improve security around patient information.
"If patients had any idea today how accessible paper records are, I think they'd be astonished," he said.
Of those surveyed by Harris Interactive, 78 percent indicated they were concerned about hackers accessing EHRs; 64 percent said they were worried about the threat of lost, damaged or corrupted records; and 62 percent cited concerns over the misuse of electronic healthcare information.
Twenty-three percent of those surveyed believe patients have the least to gain from conversion to digital records.
"That's pretty cynical. And it shows a lack of understanding of EHRs and their ability to improve evidence-based medicine, error checking and electronic documentation and 24/7 access to information," Solverson said. "These are benefits not being communicated to patients."
Evidence-based medicine involves best practices that use evidence gained from the scientific method for medical decision-making. One of the main reasons the federal government is pushing the rollout of EHRs in healthcare facilities is to promote the use of evidence-based medicine by promoting the standardization of treatments.
Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills, Michigan, is launching its EHR system at the end of this year. The system will allow EHRs to electronically follow a patient as they move through different departments of the hospital.
"When a patient moves from the Emergency Center to Radiology or Critical Care, for example, their EHRs will be immediately available to the various caregivers, greatly increasing patient safety and quality of care," Dr. Paul LaCasse, president and CEO of Botsford Hospital said in a statement.
Perhaps more telling about the lack of education surrounding EHRs was that only 18 percent of those surveyed with a healthcare provider have been approached about converting their paper records to digital.