A new Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive Healthcare Poll finds that only one-third (33 percent) of U.S. adults are very confident in their physicians and other healthcare providers having a complete and accurate picture of their medical history. However, this confidence increases to half (50 percent) for those who have an electronic medical record. About one-fourth (26 percent) of adults say they use some form of electronic medical record, mainly one kept by their physician.

These are just some of the results of an online survey of 2,153 U.S. adults ages 18 and over conducted by Harris Interactive between November 12 and 14, 2007 for The Wall Street Journal Online's Health Industry Edition.

Katherine Binns, Division President for Healthcare Research at Harris Interactive, comments, "There has been more and more talk lately about electronic medical records -- from inclusion in Presidential frontrunners' healthcare reform plans to Microsoft announcing a consumer Website to store and share health information. Insurance companies and employers are also jumping on this bandwagon. It is estimated that each year billions of dollars are spent on redundant tests, and that many otherwise avoidable injuries are caused by medical reporting errors. And it is assumed that much of this could be eliminated with online health systems that communicate with each other."

One key concept is that patients would have control over an Internet-based medical record and they would decide with whom and when to share that information. But, as when banking or shopping first went online, there have been issues of privacy concerns regarding healthcare data as well. As things become more common though, these concerns tend to wane, evidenced by a 10-point drop this year (from 61 percent in 2006 to 51 percent) in those who say electronic records make it difficult to ensure privacy. When it comes to other online medical services, three-fourths of adults feel that patients should be able to schedule an appointment with their physician via email or the Internet (77 percent) and communicate with their physician via email (75 percent). These online applications are big first steps in overcoming privacy concerns.

More adults (60 percent) feel that the benefits outweigh the privacy risks than those who do not (40 percent). Majorities agree that electronic medical records could reduce healthcare costs (55 percent), decrease medical errors (63 percent), and reduce redundant tests (67 percent) -- similar to 2006 results. Even more (74 percent) believe that patients could receive better care if doctors and researchers were able to share information more easily. However, about one-quarter of adults are just not sure that electronic medical records could provide any of these benefits, indicating a need for continued talk about this matter.