Over the past decade, inexpensive and widespread Internet access has fundamentally altered our world. Since 2007, the U.S. Postal Service has seen a 30% decline in the volume of First Class Mail pieces, a drop attributed to the growth in online bill paying. Since businesses spend an estimated $30 billion each year printing, assembling, and sending out hard-copy mail, it’s no surprise that consumers are increasingly being prodded away from paper statements and toward online billing. Of course, consumers also benefit from this shift; not only do they save on postage and checks, but they have less of a chance of incurring late fees from checks not arriving on time.
In addition to paying bills online, consumers can access their bank, credit card, utility, and other service accounts, monitoring activity, accessing information, and making changes that used to require lengthy telephone calls (most of the time spent on hold) during set business hours. And the Internet is not all about business; consumers routinely use the Internet for leisure activities and even while on vacation, searching for places to visit and making reservations for everything from dinner to whale-watching cruises.
Ironically, even though consumers can conduct nearly all other types of business online, the healthcare industry is largely stuck in 1974. While most other industries are striving to go paperless, healthcare providers cling to hard copy, handwritten medical records. A consumer can easily download bank statements, mortgage statements, and even property tax records online, but most patients have no online access to their own health records. Getting a doctor’s office to provide hard copy records can be like pulling teeth, and patients are often made to ante up a per-page fee. The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) seeks to remedy this situation by mandating that all medical records be converted into electronic form, but progress has been painstakingly slow; the healthcare industry blames a lack of expertise needed to convert from paper to computer records, with 2/3 of healthcare executives reporting an “IT talent shortage.”
Whatever the cause for the delay, patients are left in the dark, unable to access even their most basic healthcare records online. The benefits of allowing patients easy access to medical records are clear, including improved patient participation in the healthcare process, more quality and convenience for both patient and provider, better efficiency of care, and cost savings. However, despite these benefits, and despite the fact that technology exists to ensure secure access (after all, banks allow online access to accounts), a recent study by Accenture found that 68% of U.S. physicians do not want patients to have full access to their own medical records. As a result, currently only 21% of doctors surveyed reported giving patients online access to their medical charts, and only 20% allow patients online access to their personal records or those of a family member.
Eventually, healthcare providers will be forced to emerge from the Dark Ages, but what’s a patient to do in the meantime? Luckily, 24hr-eDoc members do not have to wait for their provider to get with the times; all members get free online access to their health records included with their membership. 24hr-eDoc’s eMedical records system is convenient, secure, and HIPAA-compliant. Easy electronic records access is just another way 24hr-eDoc is revolutionizing the healthcare industry and providing patients with more options and choices.