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An April 2013 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research shows that patients - most of whom are armed with smartphones and tablets - are increasingly preferring web access to their health records. Researchers surveyed patients, many of whom are former U.S. service members, at the VA Medical Center in Portland. Most preferred visit notes, lab results, and discharge summaries to be accessible electronically.

Respondents also believed that they would be in a better position to improve their health if they had better and frequent interaction with their medical records. In their April white paper, the authors of the study said that record-sharing "is likely to change providers' work, necessitating new types of skills to communicate and partner with patients."

Here are other findings from the report regarding online access to medical records:

  • Was a valuable supplement to visits with their doctors, allowing them to remember what was discussed and avoid unnecessary phone calls
  • Prepared them for office visits and enabled them to ask more intelligent questions
  • Enabled them to show their VA records to local non-VA physicians
  • Increased their knowledge of their health and encouraged them to do more self care
  • Gave them more insight into their doctor's thinking
  • Served as a starting point for Internet research related to their health
  • Made them prompt their doctors about care they needed but weren't receiving.

Additionally, there were negative reactions to easier access. Some saw their stress levels increase when they read detailed medical findings. However, increased stress levels are not confined to electronic viewings as the same reaction can occur when medical personnel deliver paper-based reports. After viewing the electronic filings, some patients became aware that their doctors weren't being completely honest with them in face-to-face discussions.

The study found that a few doctors were more truthful when they filed electronic reports. Some patients discovered inconsistencies between the online notes and what doctors said during visits.

The authors said, "In all focus groups, participants put knowledge from their records to use by learning more about their health issues, gaining more knowledge about their providers' views, and advocating for themselves in discussions about their care."

The evolving preference of medical consumers could spur a new wave of innovation in the area of secure electronic communication. A few start-ups in Silicon Valley are experimenting with ways to deliver healthcare records via secure online websites. In 2013, Rock Health published a study which discovered that medical technology ventures saw a 35 percent increase in funding investments over the same period in 2012.

The two most popular innovations attracting financiers are remote patient monitoring and hospital administration. Thus, investors, hedge funds, venture capitalists, and private equity firms are betting that digitization - as a means for lowering costs and improving efficiency - will be the wave of the future in healthcare.

Interestingly, a major stumbling block to efficient access has been Internet users' distrust of username and password systems for fear of malware, phishing scams, lost records, and identity theft.

According to an April 2013 study by the Ponemon Institute, 46 percent of Americans don’t trust systems that rely solely on user names and passwords for access. Similarly, 38 percent don’t trust sites unless they require frequent password resets. Some industry analysts believe that with emerging technologies, those percentages should increase. Voice recognition was the overwhelming choice of authentication with 83 percent followed by facial recognition with 70 percent.

There could be a different dynamic between large hospitals and smaller medical practices. Digitization will also not be appropriate without highly secure authentication. Care providers such as 24hrcares.com would be hard-pressed to post diagnosis by their medical staff online. Personal interaction may still be appropriate for most situations. However, administrative functions - like billing and scheduling for future appointments - could gain from online access.

Will healthcare go paperless? The United States has the highest medical costs of any country in the world. Paperless makes a hospital visit cheaper and more efficient.