Patients don't show much interest in accessing health data online

Doctors worry about a requirement to engage 5 percent of patients electronically.

An off-the-cuff comment by an official from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services left open the possibility that a controversial requirement for electronic engagement by patients could be modified, according to news reports.

The comment came during a question-and-answer session last week with Travis Broome, a CMS health-insurance specialist, reported Health Data Management. Broome was attending the Medical Group Management Association's annual conference in San Antonio.

Stage 2 of CMS’ requirements for demonstrating meaningful use of electronic health records, which goes into effect in 2014, requires that medical practices show at least 5 percent of patients are engaging with them electronically. That can include viewing or downloading their electronic records or exchanging secure messages with the hospital or practice.

Broome noted that providers had raised concerns over the patient-engagement threshold when the Stage 2 meaningful use rules were being drafted, but Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius insisted that a measure of patient engagement be included in the requirement, he said.

“We wanted to make the bar as low as possible, but uphold it principally,” he was quoted as saying.                                                

When audience members said their patients have not shown an interest in using portals to access their records, Broome said providers would have to “push their use,” according to the report. But he also said CMS would re-examine the requirement if providers showed that it was too difficult to meet, Health Data Management reported.

Concerns about the patient-engagement rule go beyond how to get 5 percent of patients to engage electronically. Earlier this month, Deven McGraw, chair of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s Privacy and Security Tiger Team, raised issues of privacy and possible HIPAA violations on ONC’s Health IT Buzz blog. Her concern centered around scenarios in which providers released private health information to someone other than the patient.

Providers still have to figure out how to confirm patients’ identities before releasing information electronically, McGraw wrote, according to a report on the HealthITPulse blog of HealthITExchange.