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Digital Divide Opens Up in Patient Use of Online Medical Records
Date:3/30/2011

10 percent of Americans appear to be using electronic medical records, with almost half saying they're not even clear if their doctor actually offers access, according to a Harris Interactive/HealthDay survey of more than 2,000 American adults.

The current investigation found that 43 percent of more than 75,000 patients living in the northeastern United States who had been seen between 2007 and 2009 at a clinical practice that offered personal health records had, in fact, signed up for (or "adopted") access to their doctor's system.

But upon closer look, the personal health record sign-up picture revealed considerable disparities. For example, blacks and Hispanics were only half as likely to sign up for personal health record access compared with white patients, the authors noted, and the wealthiest patients were 14 percent more likely to initiate personal health record use than the poorest patients.

Patients over the age of 65 were more likely to sign up than those between 18 and 35, as were those juggling more than one serious health issue. However, those who visited their doctor with greater regularity were actually less likely to sign up for personal health record access.

Among those who did sign up for access, just over half were categorized as "very low users" (logging in once at most in the prior two years), while a little over one-quarter were deemed "high users" (logging in 10 or more times).

Older patients, between the ages of 51 and 65, constituted the largest slice of the high-user group, they found, accounting for four in 10 among such patients.

But other personal health record usage patterns tell a more complicated story.

For example, income level had no effect on how much patients used the system once they were signed up. Similarly, although seeing a physician more often was linked to lower sign-up rates, it was also linked to higher personal health record use rates among those enrolled.

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