Part 2: Concerns About Electronic Medical Records
Previously, we wrote that, by law, paper-based patient medical records kept by health providers are being replaced by electronic medical records. All medical facilities must make significant steps in that direction by 2015 or face penalties. But what about us patients? How will electronic medical records affect us?
First, a short summary: Electronic Medical Records, known as EMR represent a digital computer-based record of a persons medical history: reasons for office visits, family medical history, lifestyle (smoking, drinking, etc), test results, medications, medical procedures, results of any genetic testing, & physician observations. Currently, medical providers each keep their own version of your medical records. (Kaiser Permanente, a notable exception) The ultimate goal of electronic medical record keeping is to have one common comprehensive medical record for each individual sharable by all the medical providers in a region over a Health Information Exchange (HIE). When available over a network, your medical information is referred to as an Electronic Health Record or EHR by the people involved in these enterprises.
Planners see huge benefits. Shared medical records would bring down deaths from medical errors. Dangerous drug interactions would be caught. A digitized system would facilitate research in medical cause and effect. Computer access would provide fast response in emergency situations, saving lives and avoiding complications. But their very accessibility makes these records susceptible to misuse.
Significant numbers of people believe that unless addressed, these risks could slow all this down. In a recent EHR Survey, of the people who had concerns, 79% said security was their main concern and 69% thought misuse of their medical records was a real possibility. New York University Professor Jacob M. Appel, bioethicist and medical historian, gauges the large number of people who’d have access to documents in a system this size alone would make privacy impossible and security breaches inevitable.
One friend of mine, is concerned that if even her General Practitioner knew about her medically controlled mental disorder, he would treat her health concerns differently. Her fear grows just thinking about someone posting this information on the internet. What if her employer knew? Are such fears exaggerated?
We’ve already heard of workers in a highly respected hospital releasing Farrah Fawcett’s medical records and recent reports of government databases being hacked adds further credence to those concerns. The possibility of medical record errors also causes apprehension. One Boston Globe article cites the experience of a man, a kidney cancer survivor, who requested copies of his medical records. They erroneously stated that cancer had spread to his brain and listed other conditions he never had. It turned out that, in the course of his
treatment, he had just been tested for these conditions. The report didn’t include the negative results of the tests.
Most people agree that their primary care physician should have access to their health records. Of course, insurers have records of health care they’ve covered. But who else might have information about us? How can we be sure the information is correct? What’s being done to protect medical records? How can we protect our privacy? Answers follow in Electronic Medical Records Part 3.