Patients Willing to Pay for Electronic Medical Records, Surveys Show

Consumers are willing to pay as much as $60 a year for EMRs, according to a Web survey released this week by the consultancy group Accenture.

But companies may not be able to provide the service necessary to make them useful, implies another Web survey of IT executives by CIOInsight.

The Accenture study surveyed about 520 people. It found wide enthusiasm for EMRs.

More than 90 percent thought electronic medical records could improve medical care and reduce hospital errors.

Ninety-three percent said they wanted emergency care personnel to be able to access their records if it could reduce treatment errors.

Most thought health care providers ask the same questions repeatedly and that EMRs could reduce wait-time in a doctor’s office. And just over half said they’d be willing to pay at least $5 a month to have their records stored in an electronic format.

Even though Web-based surveys can only query people who are somewhat comfortable with IT, such a positive response was unexpected, said Manuel Lowenhaupt, a partner in Accenture’s health practice.

“I was actually quite surprised by the level of enthusiasm and excitement that we saw from consumers regarding EMR.”

Lowenhaupt said that most companies that had been successful in patient-managed records had “captive members” who did not pay for the service specifically but received it as part of some other package, like membership in a health plan.

Several companies, including FollowMe, RedMedic, MedicAlert and CapMed already let customers manage their medical information online. Most charge around $30 a year.

Some charge more and provide other services, such as specialized flash drives.

Another company, Medem, allows patients to input and store their medical records for free, but charges physicians $25 a month for the service.

In addition, both CapMed and Medem have some ability to pull information from physicians’ medical records.

Lowenhaupt said that the results implied that physician offices would gain a competitive advantage by installing electronic medical record systems, but warned that capitalizing on patients’ willingness to pay for electronic medical records would be difficult because access would have to be available to a broad swath of different providers and getting a critical mass of providers could be prohibitive.

“I wouldn’t want to underestimate the care and feeding of such a project,” he said.

Besides, even if people would part with a few dollars a month to keep their medical records online, there’s little indication that they’d give up their time to manage their records.

That would be where the largest health benefits could be realized, said Lowenhaupt.

“To really make it useful to me as a physician, I need patients to actually look at the record.”

A CIOInsight Web poll of about 280 IT executives indicates the customer relationship management tools that could, if applied to health IT, make electronic health records more useful for both health care providers and payers: Nearly 90 percent of respondents said their companies reach customers through their Web sites.

Click here to read more about companies pushing electronic medical record systems.

However, the survey also found that the goals companies had for their Web services were often mismatched.

Improving service rather than cost-cutting, for example, is the main rationale for adopting Web-based self-service technologies, but the success of projects tends to be measured by return on investment.

In addition, most companies did not use the services that could, presumably, make patients more willing to use records to manage their health.

Only a third of respondents said their companies use personalization services; only about 13 percent used natural language processing.

Of those that did use these techniques, 67 percent and 69 percent, respectively, said the technique met or exceeded expectations.

More important for health applications, respondents whose companies use CRM (customer relationship management) were more likely to agree that “My company is able to give appropriate employees a single view of each customer” (70 percent versus 47 percent) and that “Our company is effective at turning raw data into accurate and actionable analysis” (62 percent versus 47 percent.)

More worrisome was that respondents using CRM were more likely to report problems with privacy, billing and excessive marketing. Improvements might keep more customers on the Web longer.

Lowenhaupt said there is surprisingly little consumer-based data on health IT and that would bring more patients online to make sure their records were up-to-date. For that, though, culture may need to change more than computers, he implied.

“If I spend half an hour a month to balance a checkbook, wouldn’t it be nice if I spent just as much time making sure my health was in balance?”

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