Patients’ privacy is adequately protected despite trends towards using electronic medical records.
Despite the fact that improving technology is welcomed with open arms in most fields, some have expressed grave concerns over the increasing use of medical record software within the medical profession. The spotlight has fallen upon this issue in recent years as the US Government has made attempts (with little success to date) to standardize electronic medical records.
Standardization Has Its Benefits
The purpose of standardizing electronic medical records, of course, is to make it easier for doctors, hospitals, and other medical professionals to share information regarding patients’ medical conditions. By using standardized software, a doctor in the emergency room would have nearly instantaneous access to a patient’s medical records, including any allergies, medications, or medical conditions the patient may have.
Most people don’t object to the streamlining of processes within the medical community. We all want the best care we can get when we need it, and none of us wants a physician to prescribe something which may be harmful to us because she was unaware of a condition we have or a medication we are taking. One of the major supposed benefits of standardizing everyone’s electronic medical records is that this kind of information would be stored in a national database where all medical professionals could access it as needed.
Most doctors’ offices already use some form of medical record software. It’s simply more efficient, and leads to better quality of care. Most patients don’t seriously expect their private doctors or hospitals to do all of their record keeping solely on paper anymore.
Fear Of The Unknown
The concern many people have, however, is that a national database would make their health records accessible to people who shouldn’t be seeing them. Most reasonable people are not concerned with a doctor or nurse at the ER or other medical facility being able to access their records. They’re concerned about a hacker or other unauthorized person viewing their personal and private health information for illegitimate reasons.
Most medical record software companies readily acknowledge that their programs are not completely foolproof, and there is no guarantee that no one could hack into an Internet based system. The danger, however, is not considerably greater than the danger of unauthorized people viewing your paper medical files.
Medical record software is generally password protected and employs safeguards to make sure that health records are only viewed by those who have authorization to view them. In addition, HIPAA (enacted in 1996) places fairly restrictive rules on who is and is not allowed to view your health files, including electronic medical records. The idea that your electronic health records, because they may be accessed via the Internet, are somehow available to anyone with a computer is fanciful at best.
The Truth Doesn’t Hurt
In most cases, health care professionals would still need your permission to access your medical files (complete incapacitation being the obvious exception). This really won’t change much as a result of a centralized medical database. What will change is how quickly doctors and other health care professionals can access your information once they have approval to do so. Rather than waiting for a fax of your pertinent medical files from your doctor’s office, they will have ready access to the information they need to give you the best possible care. The use of medical record software, even if it is linked to a national database, will not significantly jeopardize your privacy.