Does Meaningful Use Matter to Consumers?

HHS officials recently reported to Congress on advancements in meaningful use adoption by health care providers.  Meaningful use of electronic medical records (EMRs) is intended to make health care more efficient, transparent, and educational for consumers.  But are consumers getting the message?  A study recently published by aeffect and 88/Brand Partners suggests the answer is maybe–kind of.

Study Results

The firms provided 1,000 consumers with 40-question online surveys regarding EMRs.  Participants were required to have a regular doctor, have health insurance, and to have seen a physician in the last three years.  The researchers classified the majority of respondents–52 percent–as interested non-users.  Many of these consumers expressed an interest in using web or mobile-based applications to schedule medical appointments, refill prescriptions, and check test results or medical records.  The most likely avenue of encouragement for accessing an EMR was a physician’s recommendation. Most members of this group were likely to be seeing a solo practitioner, and, interestingly, many tended to be less satisfied with their physicians than users or disinterested non-users.  Consumers aged 31 to 40 expressed the most interest in EMRs.  Older non-users who had children under 18 were more interested in EMRs than those without minor children. 

Only about 23 percent of consumer surveyed claimed to use EMRs.  Of these, 9 percent were trial users, more than one-third of whom started using an EMR within the past six months.  Thirteen percent of consumers surveyed were regular users who used EMRs on a regular basis ranging from once every few months to weekly.  Thirty-five percent of regular users were providing care to a parent or other adult family member; the same percentage has been using EMRs for at least three years.  More than half of regular users preferred contacting their physicians via email, as opposed to telephone or in-person. 

Eighteen percent of consumers surveyed were disinterested non-users.  Of these, 63 percent were over 40.  This group exhibited the highest levels of concern about security and half do not feel they need access to medical information outside their doctor’s office.

Those consumers who used EMRs found them most useful for checking records or test results, making or confirming appointments and tests, and requesting prescription refills.  Patients who had used EMRs expressed higher overall satisfaction (78 percent) with their physicians than those who had not used EMRs (68 percent).  However, consumers living in rural areas and those with physicians in solo practices were less likely to use EMRs. 

What Do the Results Tell Us?

The results of the survey are mixed, at best.  The firms suggest that 52 percent of consumers are interested in trying EMRs and could be made to do so with the proper encouragement, especially if it comes from a physician or health system.  However, only 24 percent of those surveyed had ever used an EMR; only 9 percent had used EMRs on a trial basis; and only 13 percent were regular users.  The findings suggest that the EMR system has a long way to go before it can come close to achieving its goals for consumer use.