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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Despite privacy concerns, more than three quarters of Americans favor the use of electronic medical records, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Chicago who polled 1,000 people found that while nearly half said they had worries about the privacy of electronic medical records but 64 percent thought the benefits of being able to access their records online outweighed those concerns.
"Our core finding is that a large majority of Americans support use of health IT to improve healthcare and safety, and reduce costs," said Daniel Gaylin, executive vice president for research at the university's National Opinion Research Center.
"This suggests that government and industry efforts to increase the effectiveness and use of health IT are generally consistent with the public's wishes."
Gaylin and Adil Moiduddin, one of the authors of the study, described the results as notable because they show that many Americans back government efforts to ensure that all Americans have electronic medical records by 2014.
President Barack Obama set aside $20 billion for a plan that provides for health care to be modernized to eventually reduce costs.
But the program, part of Obama's stimulus plan, the Recovery Act of 2009, is being questioned by the new, Republican-dominated Congress.
"Prior to the Recovery Act, there was a sense that investment in health IT and government promotion of it was generally seen as a positive thing. This is still basically the case, but many elements of the Recovery Act (including health IT adoption provisions) are undergoing serious scrutiny in the new Congress," Moiduddin said.
He added that electronic medical records are rated particularly useful by those who already have access to them.
"Among people whose doctors use EMRs, there is a consensus that the physicians who use it share information with their patients. It facilitates the exchange of information."
Additionally, 80 percent of those polled favored e-prescribing, in which prescriptions are transmitted electronically from doctors to pharmacies, according to the study published in the journal Health Services Research.
Although most Americans favor digitized medical records, 44 percent said they would not be willing to pay more to have them, and 57 percent said that electronic medical records wouldn't make a difference to them in choosing physicians.
"People want a lot of things, but when asked whether they want to pay, they are often quickly less interested. It's kind of a natural thing. It's one thing to want something, it's another to have to put up the money for it," Gaylin said.
He added that the long-term benefit of EMRs remains to be seen.
"The big question is whether it's actually going to pay off over time. We still don't know the answer to that."
Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr.: Editing by Patricia Reaney