Online Access to Your Health Records

photo of health care worker at a computerHave you checked out your health records online lately? On average, health care providers who participated in the Medicare Electronic Health Record Incentive Program offered access to almost 90% of their patients—but less than 1/3 of those patients used it.

Today’s WatchBlog examines some of the reasons why people don’t use their electronic health records, even if they have access.

Playing hard-to-get

photo of elderly hands on a keyboardHealth care providers usually give patients access to their medical records through a patient portal. However, patients often receive access to a different portal for each provider they visit, and must manage separate login information for each one.

The patients we interviewed were frustrated with the amount of time and effort it took to set up these portals, understand each portal’s user interface, and manage all the different passwords.

Most providers routinely offer access to lab test results, information about allergies, and current medications. However, patients said that the information available to them was incomplete and inconsistent across providers, and were unclear about whether it could be electronically downloaded, transmitted, or aggregated in one place.

What did people actually use?

Some people did use the electronic health records made available to them in this program.

Average Percentage of Patients of Hospitals and Health Care Professionals that Participated in the 2015 Medicare EHR Program Who Were Offered Access and Electronically Accessed Health Information(Excerpted from GAO-17-305)

Patients said they were able to use these portals to better communicate with their health care providers, track health information, and share this information with other providers.

We found that patients usually accessed their records before or after a visit with their provider. Patients also described using these portals to access “convenience features,” such as appointment scheduling and reminders, and medication refill requests.

Increasing the use of electronic health records

The Department of Health and Human Services has taken some steps to increase online access to electronic health information. We recommended that HHS develop some performance measures to help determine whether their actions are working.

Watchdog ReportListen to Carolyn Yocom, a director in our Health Care team, discuss online access to health records here:


  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact Carolyn L. Yocom at yocomc@gao.gov.
  • Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact blog@gao.gov.
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