Pretty much spot-on, this. There’s an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that argues that Americans should badger Congress and the president, asking them to hold off on doling out stimulus dollars to electronic medical record systems that don’t have appropriate privacy safeguards in place. As it stands, electronic medial records aren’t exactly sealed—insurance companies can peek at them, as can pharmaceutical companies. So, let’s instead focus on creating an electronic medical record system that’s as foolproof as possible. Slight issue: when is your data, medical or otherwise, ever truly secure?
Before I get into this, let the record show that I’m pretty much in full agreement with the op-ed, which was written by a psychiatrist. Thirty-five years on the job gives her a pretty strong leg to stand on.
The main argument is that today’s electronic medial records, as set by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, are as porous as something porous. High-minded, yes. Not every Joe can see what medicine you’re taking, but in some cases your employer can, or your insurance company can.
“What? Johnson’s on Prozac? Keep an eye on him, Mack.”
“Will do, boss.”
Granted, that’s a Doomsday scenario, but it’s certainly something that can happen given the nature of electronic medical records.
So that’s that part of the equation, that electronic medial records as we have them today aren’t fully respectful of the privacy that every patient expects.
Here’s the thing, and again I say that I agree with the op-ed: your data is never safe, anywhere. Electronic medical records falling in the hands of, well, anyone other than you and your doctor, is simply par for the course.
How many times do we hear of big box merchants losing credit card records? How many times do we hear stories of dumb kids putting comprising photos of themselves on Facebook, then their schools or employers find out? For that matter, how many Facebook accounts have been hacked in recent months? (Ever get a Facebook message from a “friend” saying that he’s stranded in London and needs $2,000 as soon as possible?) How many e-mail and bank accounts are phished every day, creating a complete nightmare for the victim?
It’s sorta the nature of electronic data as a thing, that makes it easier for it to fall into the wrong hands.
It’s pretty much impossible for The Man to get a hold of your medical records when they’re physically in a safe at your doctor’s office. Unless the insurance company, or your icky boss, Metal Gear Solids his way into the office, you can pretty much assume that no one untoward is going to see said records. That’s not the case when these records are a mere few keystrokes away from anyone on the planet.
Of course, the benefits of electronic medical records are manifest: your primary care physician can zip them on over to the specialist you’re going to see later today in no time at all. Storage costs go way down: how much does it cost to store reams of paper versus a couple of files on a hard drive?
I should probbly mention that I haven’t been to a doctor in years, so they might be using robots and dark matter to look at patients these days for all I know.
So yeah, it’s tricky. Electronic medical records, by their very nature, as far more easily accessible than paper-based ones. We need to ensure that the proper safeguards are in place before embracing them full steam ahead, while keeping in mind all of the advantages of an electronic system.