New Data Highlights Opportunity to Improve Access and Use of Online Medical Records among Individuals with Cancer

Christian Johnson and Vaishali Patel, Ph.D., M.P.H. | January 23, 2020

New data released by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) examines how people diagnosed with cancer access and use their online medical record. Nearly 60 percent of individuals with a previous cancer diagnosis reported being offered access to their online medical record by a healthcare provider or insurer (Figure 1), according to data from the National Cancer Institute’s Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS). This rate is compared to 50 percent for people never diagnosed with cancer. Individuals recently diagnosed with cancer also viewed their record at higher rates compared to those never diagnosed.

Figure 1: Percent of individuals who were offered access to their online medical record by a health care provider or insurer by individual’s cancer status, 2017-2018 combined sample.

Figure 1: Percent of individuals who were offered access to their online medical record by a health care provider or insurer by individual’s cancer status, 2017-2018 combined sample.

NOTES: Denominator represents all individuals.  Percentage reflects weighted national estimate. Statistically significant from the “Never Had Cancer” group (*p<0.05; ^p<0.1). Recent cancer diagnosis was defined as individuals who reported that their first cancer diagnosis occurred less than five years ago. Cancer survivor was defined as individuals who reported that their first cancer diagnosis occurred more than five years ago. Never had cancer was defined as individuals who reported that they have never been diagnosed with cancer.

Although rates of viewing online medical records were higher among those with a recent cancer diagnosis, these tools appear to be underutilized. This group did not report greater use of most functions of online medical records compared to individuals who never had cancer. These results highlight missed opportunities for individuals with cancer to benefit from access and use of online medical records.

Nearly 40 percent of people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life. For most, a cancer diagnosis will lead to frequent interactions with the healthcare system and an overwhelming amount of health information. Digital tools, such as mobile health applications (apps) and online medical records, can help individuals with cancer and their caregivers better manage their complex health needs. These tools enable individuals to more easily track their health information, communicate with healthcare providers, and perform administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments and requesting medication refills.

People diagnosed with cancer tend to be older than the general population. However, these individuals still use technology at high rates. About 75 percent of individuals with cancer report owning a smartphone or tablet, and more than four in ten of these individuals report having mobile apps related to health and wellness.

Previous work has shown that individuals are more likely to use their online medical record when encouraged by a healthcare provider. To increase use of these tools, healthcare practitioners could encourage individuals with cancer to use their online medical record by highlighting its benefits. ONC’s Patient Engagement Playbook and Guide to Getting and Using your Health Record deliver tips to providers and patients for making this process easier.

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