Viewpoint: Without health literacy, expanded EHR access for patients is pointless

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Patients have gained more access to their health records with new federal rules — but without health literacy, are these laws pointless?

In an Aug. 22 viewpoint article for Inside Sources, Jessica Tremblay, RN, doctor of nursing practice candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, argued that expanded access to medical records is pointless for patients without health literacy.

Five insights from Ms. Tremblay:

  1. In April, the federal government implemented the final rule of the 21st Century Cures Act, which gives patients full access to their medical records. However, 9 in 10 adults encounter difficulties trying to understand their health information, the CDC reported May 21.

  2. Medical notes entered into EHRs are written for other clinicians to read, which can make reading this information feel like translating a foreign language.

  3. Patients deserve to have access to their healthcare information, Ms. Tremblay said. However, rolling out the rule without addressing the fundamental need for health literacy can be disruptive for the entire initiative.

  4. Outside of health literacy complications, many Americans also struggle with using technology. In the United States, 16 percent of adults are not digitally literate, according to Department of Education data. These Americans have difficulties using smartphones and computers and may be unable to go through the technical steps required to log in to a patient portal and read their lab test results.

  5. Until health literacy for Americans is improved, most patients will not be able to access or use their personal health information as intended. Empowering patients and promoting national health equity begins and ends with health literacy, she said.

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