The potential benefits of electronic medical records (EMRs) sounds appealing to most people, but when the issue of privacy is raised, many people become concerned about the potential for privacy abuses in EMR systems. However, most have read or heard nothing about EMRs, so public opinion is waiting to be formed.

These are some of the findings of three different surveys, each of which contained some relevant questions on EMRs, which were conducted by Harris Interactive in 2006 and 2005. Two of these surveys were conducted with Dr. Alan F. Westin, Professor of Public Law & Government Emeritus at Columbia University and one of the world's leading authorities on privacy issues in health care and other business and government settings.

In reviewing these results, Dr. Westin commented "Personal medical records have always been rated as highly sensitive by the American public. As programs to automate and interconnect patient medical records across the U.S. health care system proceed, it will be vital to track how patients see this affecting not only the quality and costs of health care, but also the confidentiality, privacy and security of their personal health information."

Many people know virtually nothing about the current campaign to adopt EMRs throughout the U.S. health care system. Only 29 percent claim to have read or heard anything about them. Therefore, it is important to point out that mass public opinion about EMR systems does not yet exist. How public opinion develops, as public knowledge and awareness of EMRs grow, will depend therefore on reports in the media on the advantages and disadvantages they offer.

Public Awareness of Electronic Medical Records

Survey Question: "The Federal government has called for medical and health-care organizations to work with technology firms to create a nationwide system of electronic Medical Records over the next few years. The goal is to improve the effectiveness of patient care, lessen medical errors and reduce the high costs of paper handling. Have you read or heard anything about this program?"

Have read or heard about program 26 %
Have not read or heard about program 62 %
Not sure12%

However, even though many people know little or nothing about EMR system developments, many of the potential benefits of EMRs are appealing. A majority of people agree with statements that EMRs hold out the promise of:

  • Significantly decreasing medical errors (55%)
  • Significantly decreasing healthcare costs (60%)
  • Improving the quality of care by reducing unnecessary test and procedures (68%)
  • A majority also agrees with the suggestion that adoption of EMRs will make it "more difficult to ensure patients' privacy" (62%).
Attitudes Toward Electronic Medical Records

Survey Question: "How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?"