The Public on Health IT: Huh?

The campaign to replace the country's paper medical files with interoperable electronic records is backed by the full force of the federal government, including tens of billions of dollars. The basic strategy is to entice and/or coerce the country's 800,000 or so doctors to go electronic.

The campaign to replace the country's paper medical files with interoperable electronic records is backed by the full force of the federal government, including tens of billions of dollars. The basic strategy is to entice and/or coerce the country's 800,000 or so doctors to go electronic.

Meanwhile, the campaign to sell 300 million or so patients on the benefits of electronic medical records is ... pretty much nonexistent. There is no organized effort to win over the hearts and minds of a constituency that has the most to gain or lose--people whose health care will be affected directly.

So it's no surprise that almost half of all Americans don't know if their doctor uses electronic records or if they, the consumer, have the option of using e-mail to communicate with health care providers. Fewer than one in 10 patients see doctors who have those capabilities.

The findings come from a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll conducted June 8 through June 10. The online poll surveyed 2,035 adults in the United States. Harris released the results on Thursday.

"The general public only has a vague idea, only a very limited understanding, of what all this is about," said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll, in the company's news release.

The lack of public understanding may come as a shock to policy and IT industry types who deal with this stuff all the time. It is unclear what effect, if any, the public's ignorance might have as the country's health care sector lurches toward an electronic future.

"The policy wonks talk very persuasively about all of the improvements in quality that come from having a complete electronic medial record," said Taylor, but "that case has not really been made effectively to the public."

Despite their lack of awareness, most of the people surveyed said they like the idea of doctors having easy access to their electronic medical records.