Proponents of electronic health records (EHRs) highlight the technology’s potential to reduce clinical staff time spent on paperwork in favor of patient contact, increase overall practice efficiency, and improve patient care. There is no lack of pilot programs and studies exploring the technology. For example, the CMS EHR Incentive Program provides monetary rewards to Medicare and Medicaid providers that incorporate patient-generated data in their EHR systems. Google Glass EHR applications tout their ability to give doctors access to patients’ relevant information at the point-of-care. Massachusetts state, regional, and local government agencies and providers are testing EHR collaboration to improve cost-effective and timely patient access to care.

A new Black Book Research survey indicates that patient satisfaction with providers may be an additional, unexpected benefit of EHR technology. Younger patients in particular are aware of EHR; as a result, they expect greater digital communication and engagement with clinical staff. According to Black Book Research managing partner Doug Brown, consumers — especially those under 40 — are displeased when hospitals lack EHR access and interoperability with other providers. Younger people also expect access to scheduling and test results and have no patience with incorrect billing. Among the younger healthcare consumers surveyed, 89% were dissatisfied with their providers’ technology capabilities, and 84% assert they were seeking “the most technologically advanced and electronically communicative medical organizations available for their health care alternatives.”  Specifically, 92% were dissatisfied when complete medical records were unavailable, and 85% weren’t happy when telehealth options weren’t offered. Provider surveys by the same research group, however, found 78% of the hospital in the study have not planned for “meaningful improvements in patient engagement, interoperability, or patient communications” for 2018.

Consumer expectations for digital communications and records access from healthcare providers will likely increase rapidly in the next few years among all age groups. In addition to greater efficiency and better care, hospitals and other providers may discover that aggressive adoption of EHR and other digital communications technologies will be a marketing advantage, especially in parts of the country where consumers have choices among providers. In order to realize these benefits, however, they will have to win over the doctors with EHR systems that don’t require them to spend more time at a keyboard than with patients.