National Partnership for Women & Families

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Erin Mackay, Associate Director, Health Information Technology Programs

From the desk of ... Erin Mackay

Survey Says: We’re Missing an Opportunity to Engage Women in Their Health Care

Women make about 80 percent of health care decisions and provide nearly two-thirds of family caregiving in our nation. Efficient, convenient access to online medical records, usually via patient portals, helps women make informed decisions about their care and that of their loved ones.

The newly released National Cancer Institute’s 2017 Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) offers insight into how people in the United States access and use health information. For the first time, the 2017 survey includes questions on consumer use of digital health information technology (IT). The National Partnership worked with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to develop questions about digital health, analyze responses and interpret findings. Here, we look at what the results say about how women specifically access and use health information via online medical records and other digital health tools.

  • Health care provider encouragement goes a long way. The survey found people are nearly twice as likely to use an online medical record if they are encouraged to do so by their health care provider. For women, use increases from 59 percent to 62 percent with a doctor’s encouragement, underscoring the importance of initiatives that reward providers for promoting patient online access and engagement.
  • Women are missing out on all that online records have to offer. Women were significantly more likely than men to be offered access to an online record, but were not more likely to use the record. Even when women do use their medical records, they rarely take full advantage of functions that could make it easier to manage their health or coordinate their family’s care. For example, barely half of women used the online record to securely email their health care provider. Only 31 percent used their online record to monitor their health, 37 percent to make an appointment and 35 percent to request a prescription refill.
  • Women use technology to search for and track health-related information at significantly higher rates than men. While women are not yet heavy users of online medical records, they are actively engaged in the broader digital health ecosystem, suggesting an opportunity to increase access to and engagement with online medical records. Forty-three percent of women report using tablets or smartphones to help them track progress on a health-related goal, such as quitting smoking, losing weight or increasing physical activity, compared to 36 percent of men.

Bottom line: We’re missing opportunities to help women take advantage of health information and related digital technologies. Given women’s role as the Chief Medical Officers of their lives and families, it is critical we help them harness the power of digital health tools to help manage their own and their loved ones’ health and health care. The following actions would advance health information access and make it easier for women to use smart devices (including mobile apps) to manage their health information:

  • Increase patient and provider awareness of individuals’ rights to their health information, including electronic access. Educational tools like GetMyHealthData’s new interactive guide to the HIPAA right of access can help.
  • Enable open application programming interfaces (APIs) for consumer data access. APIs make it possible for people to pull in health data from multiple health care providers and hospitals using their preferred apps, which can help them better organize, understand and act on their health data.
  • Explore ways to collect and integrate into medical records the kind of robust health information that women are generating and storing on their mobile devices.

In the coming year, the National Partnership will continue working with partners across the health sector to give women the information and tools they need to meaningfully engage in their health and care.

For more information and survey findings, check out our new fact sheets on the 2017 HINTS data, Online Medical Records Are a Critical Tool for Women and Women and Health Information Seeking. Additional survey analysis is also available in ONC’s Data Brief, Individuals’ Use of Online Medical Records and Technology for Health Needs.


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