In recent years, one of the ways in which care providers have tried to improve patients' health-related decisions is by giving them access to their own medical records. However, the number of people who actually reviewed this information after the fact remains stubbornly low, and that could be for any number of reasons.

In either case, it might be wise for providers to redouble their efforts to get people more engaged with their electronic health records through better access and document management.

A recent study of more than 2,400 hospitals found that nearly all of them – 95% – gave discharged patients the ability to view, download or share their medical information via EHR platforms, but only about 1 in 10 patients actually took them up on the offer, according to Health Affairs. Throughout the two-year period reviewed, from 2014 to 2016, the latter number was largely unchanged.

Digging into the issue
There may be many reasons for this divide, but a big driver seems to be potential quality of care and communication, the report said. For instance, EHR use rates among patients tended to be lowest for care providers with the highest proportions of patients on Medicare and Medicaid, patients who lacked computer and internet access or were Hispanic. For the most part, these would be providers serving lower-income patients.

By contrast, hospitals with highest engagement were those that are part of care networks, for-profit or teaching hospitals, the report said.

What can be done?
Experts note that patients may find it frustrating to access these files, especially because finding pertinent information within them isn't always easy – even for medical professionals, according to STAT News. For that reason, better organization of EHRs is a must, but so too is clear communication about how patients can access their own medical records and use them successfully. Doing so would not only be a time-saver for all involved, but also potentially boost the provider-patient relationship to previously unreachable levels.

This kind of shift may require providers to conduct a careful review of their medical document management systems to determine what they are currently doing well and where they may be falling short. That kind of insight will likely be a boon to both medical professionals and patients going forward, saving time and money that would be better devoted to other aspects of care.