Medical laboratory test data represents an essential component of the patient health record
It will soon be the era of patient health records (PHRs), based on data gathered during a survey conducted by the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF). That has implications for clinical laboratories and pathology groups across the United States, since most laboratories now electronically report laboratory test results to physicians and their patients.
Press coverage of the study, titled “Consumers and Health Information Technology: A National Survey” following its release last month, touted the findings that wealthier individuals tend to use PHRs more, but that those with lower incomes and chronic conditions who use PHRs tend to benefit the most.
“So while these populations [lower income and/or with chronic diseases] may be less likely to be using PHRs now, the potential is perhaps great,” commented Michael Perry, a Partner at Lake Research Partners, which conducted the study on behalf of the California HealthCare Foundation. “This is intriguing information that we need to learn more about, but it suggests that making PHRs more available and accessible to those populations could really reap some health benefits.”
The study was conducted from December 18, 2009 through January 15, 2010. A total of 1,849 people were interviewed. Researchers concluded that “PHR users are predominantly young, highly educated, higher income, white men.” At the same time, they noted that findings suggest that “traditionally vulnerable populations (older, less education, lower income, and chronically ill) have the most to gain from PHR use.”
A notable finding was that 58% of PHR users with incomes of less than $50,000 per year told researchers that they “feel more connected to their doctor as a result of using the PHR.” By contrast, only 31% of higher income individuals in the study made that statement.
Since clinical laboratory and pathology test results are an essential component of a patient health record, the rapid increase in consumer acceptance of PHRs is a reminder to medical laboratories of the need to have a strategy in place that addresses growing consumer interest and use of electronic-based personal health records. In fact, authors of the study stated that the number of Americans currently using PHRs doubled between 2008 and the end of 2009.
The following map of the United States shows the rate of PHR use by region. In California, it was determined that 15% of the population already use PHRs! Further, in the Western United States, consumer use of PHRs is double that of the remainder of the United States.
The uptake of PHR use by consumers should not be overlooked by clinical laboratories and pathology groups. More and more consumers are expected to take a greater role in directing their care. Here’s what CHCF President and CEO Mark D. Smith, M.D., M.B.A., had to say about this trend. “We know that most health care is self-care, since most people only see their physicians periodically. This survey shows that—when individuals have easy access to their health information—they pay greater attention to their health. And for the first time, the survey documents that PHRs empower some people—including some of the heaviest users of the health system—to take better care of themselves.”
The CHCF PHR survey results are good news for medical laboratories and pathology groups. If most consumers in the United States are soon to become regular users of a PHR, this creates an opportunity for clinical labs and pathologists to differentiate themselves. It can create a new competitive opportunity for medical labs to build relationships with consumers based on services that add value. In turn, that can motivate consumers to be loyal to their clinical laboratory of choice—even to the point of pressuring managed care plans to make their preferred laboratory a network provider.