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Article- Electronic Medical Records and Privacy

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Richard Peck can thank an electronic health record for saving his life.

Peck, a 65-year-old Florida resident, became ill suddenly a few weeks after major surgery – just as he was moving and changing doctors.

Lucky for him, his former physician had created an electronic medical record for him and the ambulance service called to his home was able to access it. The emergency room physician also was able to pull up the record on his computer system.

“The fact that his entire medical history was available to the hospital and printed out for the ambulance crew allowed the emergency room to have the course of treatment available when he arrived, saving precious time,” said an article in the Ending the Document Game, a report by the Commission on Systemic Interoperability, created by Congress in 2003 as part of the Medicare Modernization Act. “For him, it meant more than the convenience of having to repeat his medical history. Access to electronic information meant the difference between life and death.”

Goodbye Paper; Hello Computer

The country’s health care system is moving now toward a nationwide system of electronic health records. The U.S. government is looking to have a Nationwide Health Information Network, a system that will connect all patients’ records to health care providers, insurance companies, pharmacies and laboratories electronically. The goal is to do so by 2014.

Yet how can patients know their medical information is truly secure? What if someone hacked into the system and stole patients’ confidential information? Identify theft of Social Security numbers and financial information already touches – and makes miserable – the lives of thousands of individuals and their families.

Or, as a Consumer Reports.org article asks:

"Could computer hackers or pranksters release the information onto the Internet, where your co-workers could learn, say, that you are being treated for alcoholism? Might your record become available to potential employers or lenders who decide that you’re not healthy enough to perform the job or handle a 30-year mortgage? And will you be able to control who has access to or find out who has viewed your medical records?
"

Wither Security?

.....Or How Can I Know Some Hacker In Iowa Won’t Be Ogling Records of My Pregnancy?

So what could be done to help keep electronic records secure? An article at BMJ.org  suggests that, as a start, “patients should have control over access and permissions.” This will, the article continues, “allow protection of privacy according to individual preferences and help prevent some of the current misuses of personal medical information.

The article posits that this also will help negate the “[s]ubstantial problems [that] arise if patients cannot trust that their medical data will be used only in the ways they intend. If patients feel that they have no control over the fate of their medical information, they might fail to disclose important medical data or even avoid seeking medical care because of concern over denial of insurance, loss of employment or housing, or stigmatization and embarrassment. Expectation of privacy allows trust and improves communications between doctors and patients.

Patients are poised to take control of their personal medical information. People are already managing bank accounts, investments and purchases online, and many use the web for gathering information about medical conditions. Consumers will naturally expect to extend this control to online medical portfolios.”

In closing

The trick, it appears, is strengthening the security measures built in to the electronic record systems. While there is no such thing as a perfectly secure electronic record – people who want to get in will try to find a way to get in – protection lies in constantly updating and strengthening security protocols.

The days of patient records kept in individual doctor’s offices, hospitals and clinics is long gone because the benefit of health care professionals being able to access an individual’s electronic records anywhere the patient happens to be is too great.
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