The increasing importance of electronic health information

The issue of electronic health records has been getting increasing amounts of attention, but with President Obama calling the creation of a nationwide system of electronic medical records fundamental to health-care reform, the privacy and health issues are set to become much more prominent.

 

At the heart of the debate is how to strike a balance between protecting patient privacy and expanding the health industry’s access to vast and growing databases of information on the health status and medical care of every American. Insurers and providers say the House’s proposed protections would hobble efforts to improve the quality and efficiency of health care, but privacy advocates fear that the industry would use the personal data to discriminate against patients in employment and health care as well as to market the information, often through third parties, to generate profits.

 

With Google Health and Microsoft’s Health Vault, individuals have the means to begin to keep a digital record of their own health information. Doctors and hospitals are encouraged to adopt their own EMR systems, such as Practice Solutions. There are also open source EMR solutions available, with obvious benefits for developing communities, and even for family doctors who have lower incomes and higher overhead expenses than you may realize.

This is an area that is set to take off, with technological innovations aiming to reassure people that their privacy health information is secure. The potential benefits are enormous, but the privacy risks are very real. The field must be regulated carefully, but I believe recent experience with social networking indicates that younger people will be much more liberal with how much private information they will be willing to store on systems beyond their own control. If they can move their own health information to the cloud on end user EMR systems like Google Health, young people will not wait for government and the medical community to build the perfect system before they start uploading their medical information.

That is both exciting and scary. But any way you look at it, we need regulation and clarity in this area, and quickly. 

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