By Stephen Wilkins, MPH

First Posted at Mind the Gap on 9/25/2013

Steve Wilkins, MPH, host of "Mind the Gap"

Steve Wilkins, MPH, host of “Mind the Gap”

If yes then I have a bridge to sell you…

I love survey data as much as the next person. But some of the survey data finding its way into the health care press these days is pure baloney…which is good if you like baloney.

Such was the case with the finding from an Accenture study which was making the rounds of the Health Information Technology (HIT) Journals, HIT Blogs and Twitter feeds during National Health IT Week. You will no doubt recall the headlines which proclaimed that “41% of U.S. consumers would be willing to switch physicians to gain online access to their own EMRs.”

Upon first glance, the question of “would you be willing to switch physicians” to accomplish a social good (access to your electronic medical records) seems reasonable enough. It’s one of those questions that most of us would be inclined to agree with. It’s kind of like asking people if they would be willing to pay lower taxes or pay less to fill up your car’s gas tank. Of course we will say yes.

In the Accenture study literally everyone did! Remember 36% of respondents said they already had full access to their EMR (whatever full access means), 27% said they had limited EMR access and 37% said they did not yet have any EMR access. So if 41% said they would switch physicians to get EMR access we are left to conclude that all 100% of those without EMR access would switch…plus 4% of those who already had EMR access would also switch doctors presumably because they wanted more EMR access. 

At face value, this Accenture data does not hold water…and here are a couple of reasons why.

  • 79% of people (patients) are already very satisfied with their personal physician (patients who rated their physician 9-10 on the 10 point 2012 CHAPS survey released recently by AHRQ. Very satisfied patients are not likely to switch physicians unless they have a darn good reason and access to Health IT is not a good enough reason for most people.
  • People’s criteria for selecting a new physician focus on human interaction skills and clinical competencies – not the physician’s use of EMRs and other Health IT (i.e., PHRs, web portals, etc.).Reasons For Changing Doctors
  • Similarly, people’s reasons for switching physicians have to do with changes in insurance, relocation, and the physician’s human interaction skills…not the lack of an EMR, PHR or patient portal.
  • 100% of people can’t agree on anything including EMRs – intuitively we know that seniors (who have the highest health care need/use) have a higher trust in their physicians and are less inclined to care one way or another about Health IT, other people worry about personal data security and so on.
  • A 2012 survey by the Markle Foundation found that “79 percent or more of the public believe using an online PHR would provide major benefits to individuals in managing their health and health care services.” Yet actual consumer adoption of online PHRs has been less than 10% for the last several years (with some notable exceptions like Kaiser, Group Health and the VA). There’s a big difference between what people believe or say they are willing to do…and what they actually do.

The Take Away

What people actually do or intend to do (behavioral intentions) are much stronger and reliable predictors of behavior (switching physicians for example) than attitudinal questions about their beliefs or potential willingness to do something in the future in relation to other behaviors they could engage in. The Accenture study would have been more instructive had it asked respondents to rate the importance of Health IT (EMR) in relation to other physician selection factors like the physician interpersonal skills, their knowledge and experience, etc. It would also be helpful for Accenture to inquire as to the respondent’s knowledge of EMRs and what constituted full versus limited access…and which is addresses the consumer’s level of interest and need.

Sources:

http://newsroom.accenture.com/news/more-than-40-percent-of-us-consumers-willing-to-switch-physicians-to-gain-online-access-to-electronic-medical-records-according-to-accenture-survey.htm