ONC: More patients are downloading their medical records and using portals

A brief out this month from the U.S. Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT found an increase in patient portal access and online medical record download rates over the past few years.  

In 2020, the agency said, about six in 10 individuals throughout the country were offered access to their patient portal, and nearly 40 percent accessed their record at least once.  

About a third of patient portal users downloaded their online medical record in 2020, nearly double the proportion of 2017.  

“Making it easier for individuals to access and use their electronic health information is a national priority,” wrote agency representatives in the brief.   


As ONC notes, these data points are from the Health Information National Trends Survey, which was fielded from January through April 2020.

In other words, the statistics include patient portal use before the COVID-19 pandemic – and before the final rule implementing key patient access provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act.

Still, many patients have clearly displayed a hunger for their health information. The four in 10 individuals who accessed a patient portal in 2020 represents a 13 percentage point increase from 2014.   

The vast majority (86%) did so in order to view test results – a proportion that has remained steady over the past four years.   

About one in five transmitted their data to an outside party.  

And many are choosing to get their records on the go: Almost 40% accessed their health data using a smartphone app in 2020.  

More patients are also using their portals to communicate with providers: Roughly six in 10 did so in 2020, a 10 percentage point increase from 2017.  

More than half viewed clinical notes written by their provider – and in 2019, about 10% requested a correction of inaccurate portal information. (The rate for 2020 was not available.)  

The majority of patients who did not access their portals said they preferred to speak with their healthcare providers directly.   

Other reasons included not seeing a need to access their medical records, difficulties logging in, privacy concerns, computer discomfort and a lack of website access.  

On the other hand, individuals encouraged by their healthcare provider to use their patient portal did so at higher rates compared to those not encouraged.  

“This illustrates the influence providers have with respect to educating patients about the benefits of having access and the value proposition for doing so,” wrote ONC analysts.  


Studies have shown that patient portals can help individuals enhance their knowledge about their own medical status and care.

At the same time, however, hurdles to access exist. Some research shows that patients with lower incomes, Black patients, older patients and patients whose primary insurance is Medicaid are less likely to use portals. 


“The ONC Cures Act Final Rule seeks to make health information from electronic health records more easily accessible to patients through secure, standards-based APIs that can be leveraged to create applications that can help patients manage their health information, said analysts.  

“Ultimately, ONC hopes these provisions will enable patients to more easily access and use their health information across patient portals offered by different healthcare providers,” they continued. “Examining how these trends evolve over time will provide insight regarding the extent to which this vision is realized.”

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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