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Stanford University School of Medicine

VA patients show "overwhelming interest" in sharing electronic health records with others

If you could allow family members, caregivers and outside providers access to your electronic personal health records, including such information as lab results, prescriptions and upcoming appointments, would you? In a recent survey of 18,000 Veterans Affairs patients, 80 percent of participants answered "yes."

“Patients were overwhelmingly interested in allowing their caregivers and health-care providers to access their online health information and help them manage their health care,” Stanford/VA Palo Alto Health Care System researcher Donna Zulman, MD, recently told my colleague. In a release, she also discussed the likely reasons behind the participants' "dramatic response:"

She said the veteran patient population tends to have multiple chronic conditions, so “it would be especially beneficial for these complex patients to be able to share their information with the people who are helping them.” Additionally, many veterans live far from family members who might provide support. Almost half of those respondents wishing to share their records with a family member other than a spouse or partner reported the specified family member did not live with them.

Few systems that use personal health records currently allow patients to share access with other people, but there may good reason to rethink this:

An accompanying editorial in the journal cites Zulman’s paper and a related study in the same issue as evidence that supports facilitating patient access to their digital files to improve transparency in health care. “Electronic health records should be used to engage patients, their caregivers, and others in the health-care delivery system,” writes Thomas Feeley, MD, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and Kenneth Shine, MD, of the University of Texas System, in the editorial. “Expanding who uses the records and how they use them promises to facilitate communication, decrease redundant testing and enhance our care delivery in ways we have yet to imagine.”

Zulman's study appears online today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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