Background: The development and implementation of electronic health records (EHRs) remains an international challenge. Better understanding of patient and public attitudes and the factors that influence overall levels of support toward EHRs is needed to inform policy.
Objective: To explore patient and public attitudes toward integrated EHRs used simultaneously for health care provision, planning and policy, and health research.
Methods: Cross-sectional questionnaire survey administered to patients and members of the public who were recruited from a stratified cluster random sample of 8 outpatient clinics of a major teaching hospital and 8 general practices in London (United Kingdom).
Results: 5331 patients and members of the public responded to the survey, with 2857 providing complete data for the analysis presented here. There were moderately high levels of support for integrated EHRs used simultaneously for health care provision, planning and policy, and health research (1785/2857, 62.47%), while 27.93% (798/2857) of participants reported being undecided about whether or not they would support EHR use. There were higher levels of support for specific uses of EHRs. Most participants were in favor of EHRs for personal health care provision (2563/2857, 89.71%), with 66.75% (1907/2857) stating that they would prefer their complete, rather than limited, medical history to be included. Of those “undecided” about integrated EHRs, 87.2% (696/798) were nevertheless in favor of sharing their full (373/798, 46.7%) or limited (323/798, 40.5%) records for health provision purposes. There were similar high levels of support for use of EHRs in health services policy and planning (2274/2857, 79.59%) and research (2325/2857, 81.38%), although 59.75% (1707/2857) and 67.10% (1917/2857) of respondents respectively would prefer their personal identifiers to be removed. Multivariable analysis showed levels of overall support for EHRs decreasing with age. Respondents self-identifying as Black British were more likely to report being undecided or unsupportive of national EHRs. Frequent health services users were more likely to report being supportive than undecided.
Conclusions: Despite previous difficulties with National Health Service (NHS) technology projects, patients and the public generally support the development of integrated EHRs for health care provision, planning and policy, and health research. This support, however, varies between social groups and is not unqualified; relevant safeguards must be in place and patients should be guided in their decision-making process, including increased awareness about the benefits of EHRs for secondary uses.