A School of Medicine study found that 80 percent of surveyed Veterans Affairs (VA) patients are interested in sharing their health records electronically with family members, caregivers and outside providers in order to improve their care.
First author Donna Zulman, instructor in the School of Medicine, is also an investigator for the VA medical system, which wanted to study its patients’ thoughts about sharing their records. The VA medical system uses an electronic record system called “My HealtheVet.” The study was published in the Dec. 20 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Zulman conducted the survey mid-2010, asking a random sample of 18,000 My HealtheVet users if they were willing to share some or all of their information in their public health record.
Almost 80 percent of veterans expressed interest in sharing information with at least one person given in the options, which included a spouse or partner, child, other family member, an unrelated caregiver, friend or neighbor and a non-VA health-care provider.
Since the veteran patient population tends to have multiple health conditions, “it would be especially beneficial for these patients to be able to share their information with the people who are helping them,” Zulman said in an interview with the School of Medicine.
Zulman added that sharing information helps allow family members who live far from the veterans to provide support. In fact, over half of the veterans who were interested in sharing health information with a family member other than a spouse or a partner reported that the family member did not live with them.
Although the majority of My HealtheVet users are men, representative of the veteran population in general, Zulman and her colleagues found that both men and women participating in the survey showed similar interests in sharing their health records.
Currently, patients have legal rights to obtain their medical records on paper by written request, which then allows them the freedom to share these printed copies, thus making them able to share health records non-electronically.
“However, in reality, this process is cumbersome and inefficient,” Zulman said. “[The current process is] not conducive to routine information-sharing between patients, their caregivers and their multiple health-care providers. [The] procedures have their own inherent data security risks.”
Because of concerns about data security and privacy, policies to restrict information in health-care systems, intending to protect patients from malicious intents, were created. Changes to system policies may help facilitate future health care.
“Electronic personal health records offer an opportunity to open these communication channels by enabling patients to view their information online and share their information electronically,” Zulman said. “Our study suggests that patients are eager to embrace this opportunity and that health-care systems need to develop applications that enable patients to easily and safely share their information.”