Although patients can protect their own health by getting copies of their medical records, few consumers get them, and fewer still take advantage of the federal government’s push to make records easily available electronically, one of Uncle Sam’s big public protection agencies reports.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office also warns that tumult in the nation’s health care system, notably in Congress’ roller-coaster deliberations to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, may disrupt patients’ relationships with caregivers. That makes it even more vital for consumers to have their health records.
The Association of Health Care Journalists deserves a tip of the cap for pointing to the GAO blog, where experts note that the ACA had supported a national push to get doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic health records with the aim of providing patients and caregivers more access and transparency about these crucial materials.
Now, through various provider sites online, 90 percent of Americans can get some part of their records, though only 33 percent of them do so, the GAO says. The watchdog agency says it has recommended to the Health and Human Services department that it develop regulations and enforcement to make it more convenient for patients to access and download information about themselves and their care. Patients have expressed frustration that the materials now are split up across too many different portals, each with their own architecture, passwords, and other demands.
On the other hand, Americans also are liking that such sites let providers more easily schedule appointments, send them reminders, and take care of simple needs like prescription refill requests.
In my practice, I see the big harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services and the critical role that their records play in their medical care. Getting those records can save patients’ lives, improve their treatment, and give them and their caregivers important insights into each other, as I’ve said on the blog and in my book The Life You Save: Nine Steps to Getting the Best Medical Care, and Avoiding the Worst. Uncle Sam has tried to make it easier to get records, though patients can still encounter obstacles that can be overcome.
Technical wizards someday may figure how to make it a snap to get our own health records, and ways to defeat the “interoperability” flaws that now keep medical providers from simpler, faster, more comprehensive, and accurate sharing of information about our care. Until then, persist, friends. Go to as many sites, make as many clicks as needed. But get yourself your records and get deep into their content.