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Paging Dr. Internet


Lisa Phillips, Senior Analyst

Health insurance coverage is a major concern for many Americans and a major issue for the US presidential candidates this year. Electronic medical records (EMRs)—also known as electronic health records (EHRs) or personal health records (PHRs)—are a big part of many proposed plans to cut costs and streamline delivery of healthcare.

While acceptance of EMRs is growing, Americans and their physicians still have some reservations. Few US adults even have an EMR. Just 27% of the 2,153 respondents in a November 2007 survey by Harris Interactive for the Wall Street Journal said they did.

The majority of that group said their doctor maintained the EMR, with only 4% of respondents saying they maintained their own.

Having an EMR gives patients more confidence that their doctor knows their medical history but does not guarantee it. Among the respondents who had an EMR, half said they were “very confident” and 39% said they were “somewhat confident” that their doctor had a complete picture of their medical history. A surprising 11% were not very or not at all confident—and confidence in better medical care is an important factor in filling out the electronic forms in the first place.

Although a clear majority of respondents either agreed “strongly” or “somewhat” with statements regarding decreasing medical errors, reducing costs, improving the quality of care and ability to share information among medical professionals, 50% also agreed that EMRs made it harder to ensure a patient’s privacy. A significant portion of respondents—between 21% and 30%—did not feel confident enough to answer the questions.

However, electronic access comes at a price, mostly for doctors: 91% of respondents want access to their EMR maintained within their doctor’s system. And now that they know their doctor has Internet access, 77% want to schedule appointments online and 75% want the ability to e-mail their doctor about healthcare issues at no additional charge. Less than half—43%—think doctors should be compensated for e-mailing patients.

Having an EMR quells most patients’ privacy concerns, the survey found. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents who had an EMR said the benefits outweighed the risks to privacy, compared with 56% of respondents who didn’t have an EMR.

Learn about drug makers' digital strategies. Read eMarketer's Pharmaceutical Marketing Online: Stuck in Web 1.5 report.

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