Electronic Medical Records – how will you access yours?

Posted by pwitman - October 25, 2010

Source: photoxpress.com

Intuit Financial Services (disclaimer – they bought my former employer, Digital Insight) recently published a survey indicating that about 1/3 of Americans now bank online. Precious few, though, have any access to their medical records online, nor do their health care providers. Medical records in the U.S. are still largely paper-based – a thick file of paper accessible primarily to the provider where it resides – your doctor, pharmacy, or other treatment provider.

As such, we lose out on some significant benefits, which recent health care legislation hopes to change. Health care providers are being incented to invest in technology to digitize their current records, and to move all of their recordkeeping into an electronic format. This might (but won’t necessarily) enable providers to share information among them, so that it’s easier for your oncologist, dermatologist, and general practitioners to see what each has learned about your case, and better coordinate your care.

Once those records are online and available to your health care team, they could also be made available to you. Kaiser-Permanente, among others, is among those making a splash in the media about how and why they do this – to improve care, to save trees, and to enable you to handle your health care in more convenient ways.

But using Kaiser’s, or any other provider’s, system directly will tend to lock you into that provider. Kaiser is also an “all-in-one” shop – good in that you get all your care through their services, but a bit limiting in that their system won’t store information about care you receive elsewhere.

There’s also not yet any good way to move your records from one provider to another, so if you change providers, your records may not move with you. But there are alternatives – Google Health, Microsoft HealthVault, and others that claim to be able to extract information from your various health providers and assemble it into one view, and allow you to enter your own records – exercise records, pulse, blood pressure, and glucose measurements, etc.

This model, though, moves your records into the hands of companies who provide you the service for free, but then may use that data to target ads to you. They can also use the data (in aggregate) to analyze all sorts of things about their users, and sell that information to others. And like any other company, if they have possession of data, it is possible that it may get misused – by outside hackers, or by their own employees.

There are still more options – your pharmacy, and your bank. Your pharmacy already has your prescription information, and often offers online access to your records. It wouldn’t be hard to extend that model to include data from your medical providers, if they allowed it. And your bank already knows how to manage security – and you’ve demonstrated you trust them enough to share information about your finances online. What if they could also offer a gateway to your health records?

So what’s your preference? If you bank online, you’ve already chosen to take a certain set of risks with your information, in return for added convenience and control. If you had access to your medical records online, how would you prefer to access them? Through your insurance company? Your primary care physician? Through a private independent provider like Google or Microsoft? Or perhaps through your pharmacy or bank?

I’d love to hear your ideas – thanks in advance for sharing!

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