Sunday, December 10, 2006

With electronic health records, it's the privacy piece

I had a great but busy week last week and I'm only just getting caught up on my extracurricular reading...

Last week, the New York Times ran a very interesting and informative article on electronic health records (Health Hazard: Computers Spilling Your History - New York Times). The article confirms what I've believed for some time: the greatest impediment to the adoption of electronic health records is privacy and most planners are giving that short shrift as they plunge furter and further into this new age.

It doesn't help that celebrities, such as former President Clinton, have to check into hospitals under aliases.

“There is a huge potential for technology to improve health care and reduce its cost,” Mr. Bosworth said in a statement. “But companies that offer products and services must vigorously protect the privacy of users, or adoption of very useful new products and services will fail.”

Even before the theft this year of a Veterans Affairs official’s laptop that contained private medical records of 28 million people, a consumer survey found that repeated security breaches were raising concerns about the safety of personal health records.

About one in four people were aware of those earlier breaches, according to a national telephone survey of 1,000 adults last year for the California HealthCare Foundation. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The survey, conducted by Forrester Research, also found that 52 percent were “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” that insurance claims information might be used by an employer to limit their job opportunities.

The Markle survey, to be published this week, will report even greater worry — 56 percent were very concerned, 18 percent somewhat concerned — about abuse by employers. But despite their worries, the Markle respondents were eager to reap the benefits of Internet technology — for example, having easy access to their own health records.


Still, worries linger across the health care system. Hospital executives say that private investigators have often tried to bribe hospital employees to obtain medical records that might be useful in court cases, including battles over child custody, divorce, property ownership and inheritance.

But computer technology — the same systems that disseminate data at the click of a mouse — can also enhance security.

Mr. Liss, of NewYork-Presbyterian, said that when unauthorized people tried to gain access to electronic medical records, hospital computers were programmed to ask them to explain why they were seeking the information.

Moreover, Mr. Liss said, the computer warns electronic intruders: “Be aware that your user ID and password have been captured.”

No comments: