Patients deserve easier access to their protected health information (PHI)

by Jul 11, 2019Health Informatics Technology0 comments

Doctor reading printed-out protected health information (PHI) on a clipboardAs patients move towards a more transparent and self-directed pathway of health, demands for more control over their personal information and health results increase. Consumers are interested in knowing the data that informs important healthcare decisions and insist on accessing their information no matter where they are, yet a recent study by Quest Diagnostics proved that one in three U.S. adults don’t know where their health results are. Further results showed that despite the digital advancements healthcare has experienced in the previous decade, patients are still unclear where and how to securely access their protected health information.

What’s included in my protected health information (PHI)?

Although the personal information included in each PHI profile will vary based on the patient, generally the details include demographic information (age, gender, location, etc.), medical conditions and history, laboratory tests and results, mental health conditions, insurance information, ailments/treatments, and other data.

The PHI used in healthcare can be used (under anonymized conditions) across clinical and scientific settings and sent back to a patient’s primary care physician. Using this data for 21st-century healthcare allows doctors to make more informed decisions, advance the care they provide, and offer greater improvements in quality of care.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) issued in 1996 is the principal law that administers the use of, access to, and disclosure of a patient’s protected health information across the United States. Providers that sign HIPAA agreements are “legally bound to handle patient data in a way that satisfies the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules…and are limited in the types of PHI they can collect from individuals, share with other organizations or use in marketing.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Office for Civil Rights

What did Quest Diagnostics learn about PHI?

A key finding indicated that about one out of every two adults would like access to their health information, but remain unsure if online entry is currently available through their provider. The survey also concluded that more people have an easier time remembering social account log-ins, Wi-Fi passwords, and bank account balances more than important personal health data.

Other key findings included:

  • Fewer than three in five Americans know their blood type.
  • 38% know their cholesterol and even fewer, 33%, know their blood sugar (A1C) levels.
  • The vast majority (87%) recognize the benefit of accessing their health information online.
  • Nearly 47% of adults encourage access to PHI so that they can help make better decisions for themselves and loved ones.

Of those who participated in the study, 82% noted they or a family member had a medical lab test performed in the most recent year, but 33% reported they do not know where or how to find the results.

Healthcare’s Next Steps 

Since 2009, healthcare providers and health systems have been accelerating patient functionality and engagement in response to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, which enforced implementation of electronic health records (EHR). Health systems across the U.S. have made significant strides towards meeting the regulations set by this law.

Currently, many hospitals and health providers offer patients the ability to access their records online. A 2018 American Hospital Association study reported that 93% of health systems provide patients access to their digital health records, averaging a 31% increase year-over-year since 2012. Additionally, the same survey found that 84% of U.S. hospitals offer patients the opportunity to identify who can access their records on their behalf. As we continue to excel in this direction of connected healthcare, health systems are challenged to deliver a similar, if not the same, experience to patients via mobile devices. Ideally, this will be followed with the ability to bundle aspects of a patient’s insurance plan into digital features (e.g. estimating out-of-pocket expenses ahead of doctor visits or procedures).

Did You Know?

More than 13 billion lab tests are conducted every year in the United States across 250,000+ clinical facilities. But three out of every ten tests are reordered because the results cannot be found, leading to additional costs of care, possible mistreatment or diagnosis, or further injury.

At the heart of healthcare’s future remains information technology. In 1995, IT doubled the rate of productivity in the U.S. and gave many businesses across varied industries a reason to integrate its tools into their plans, resulting in improved quality of work, reduced operational costs, and increased convenience for consumers.

Similar to the businesses who reached success through IT, the potential for healthcare to experience comparable success remains promising. Patients will soon reach a position where controlling, managing, and improving their health care is similar to managing their 401(k). This could provide patients the opportunity to become more empowered than ever to make informed, personalized choices for care with their providers.