A new survey from HarrisInteractive reveals that one in 3 patients don’t think doctors have a complete picture of their medical history. But if the doctor has an electronic medical record (EMR), 9 out of 10 Americans want access to it.

Compared to the same survey done in 2006, more consumers have faith in EMRs’ ability to reduce medical errors (57% of consumers thought that the use of EMRs could decrease the frequency of errors in 2006; in 2007, 63% did).

On privacy, consumers appear to be trusting EMRs more. Overall, 60% of Americans believe that the benefits of EMRs outweigh the privacy risks; and a greater percentage of those using an EMR believe in the positive health benefit/privacy risk ratio. The media have been covering the topic of electronic records more in the past couple of years, and perhaps consumers are getting the message that EMRs are one linchpin in more effective health care delivery.

Consumers get more confident about the completeness of their medical picture when their docs use an EMR. About 25% of Americans say their providers uses an EMR. One-half of this group of folks who can access their provider’s EMRs believes their medical record is complete.

The HarrisInteractive/WSJ findings are complemented by a new poll form the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) which found that, while most consumers look to their doctor for health information, they are increasingly seeking other sources.

According to the NBGH, physicians are still the #1 source of medical info for most consumers, but 9 out of 10 Americans dealing with a health decision want to consult additional sources beyond the doctor’s opinion. This is a major finding; the paternalistic role of the physician-advisor is being challenged by nearly every patient who enters the office. The era of information asymmetry in the relationship between physician and patient — where the physician is seen as all-knowing — is officially over.

The NBGH is an association of 288 large American employers who actively seek health care innovations for their firms’ employees.

The NBGH is promoting the role of the employer as a valuable channel of health information for the employee. Helen Darling, the president of the association, said in a press release accompanying the survey, “In many cases, employers can help their workers become more engaged consumers by providing access to trustworthy, authoritative sources of medical information.” Right now, though, employers are at the bottom of the list of consumers’ go-to health info sources.

The NBGH identified the following sources of health information favored by employees:

1. Doctors, used by 72% of employees
2. The Internet, 68%
3. Health plan, 67%
3. Friends and family, 66%
4. Magazine/news articles, 61%
5. Prescription drug inserts, 59%
6. Employers, 54%.

There’s some mixed-behavior when it comes to consumers wanting and acting on comparative information on health treatments and options. Consumers say they want the info on comparisons among health treatments. Yet of those consumers who did see this sort of information, most did not use it to make a health decision.

There are differences between younger and older consumers when it comes to what sort of information they use and trust. Younger people more frequently used consumer product information. They also trusted newer treatments less than more established treatments. Intriguingly, people over 50 trust newer treatments as much as they do established treatments.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Together, the HarrisInteractive and NBGH polls demonstrate that American health consumers are getting more savvy about the state and use of their health information. Furthermore, they’re looking to fill the gaps they perceive in the information, and they’re looking for trusted sources. Top line: consumers are getting comfortable with search and research. Thanks to lots of experience clicking with Google, Yahoo!, and other engines, consumers have come to see the Internet as a go-to source for health information. Employers have a ways to go when it comes to being trusted as a health infomation channel. Finally, people are getting real about privacy and the trade-offs of sharing information versus getting value in return. When kept secure and confidential, sharing personal health information can and should yield positive health returns to consumers.