Surveys find public opinion now forming on EMRs - privacy a big concern

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According to a report from Harris Interactive, recent surveys the firm conducted indicate that the potential benefits of electronic medical records (EMRs) sound appealing to most people, but when the issue of privacy is raised, many people become concerned about the potential for privacy abuses in EMR systems. However, most have read or heard nothing about EMRs, so public opinion is waiting to be formed.
Harris conducted the surveys in 2005 and 2006.

Two of these surveys were conducted with Dr. Alan F. Westin, professor emeritus of public law and government at Columbia University and a leading authority on privacy issues in healthcare. "Personal medical records have always been rated as highly sensitive by the American public,” he said. “As programs to automate and interconnect patient medical records across the U.S. healthcare system proceed, it will be vital to track how patients see this affecting not only the quality and costs of healthcare, but also the
confidentiality, privacy and security of their personal health information."

Only 29 percent of those surveyed said they have read or heard anything about EMRs so how public opinion develops, as public knowledge and awareness of EMRs grow, will depend on reports in the media on the advantages and disadvantages they offer, according to the Harris report. Despite the low knowledge level, a majority of people agree with statements that EMRs hold out the promise of:

  • Significantly decreasing medical errors (55 percent)
  • Significantly decreasing healthcare costs (60 percent)
  • Improving the quality of care by reducing unnecessary test and procedures (68 percent)

However, the majority (62 percent) also agrees with the suggestion that adoption of EMRs will make it "more difficult to ensure patients' privacy." In fact, 42 percent said that the privacy risks of EMRs outweigh the potential benefits.