Medical Records On The Internet — 4/18/08

Medical Records on the Internet -4/18/08

Intro: When you go to the Emergency Room, wouldn't it be nice if the hospital could get immediate access to your medical records? Lacking the ability to see your current medications, treatment, and history could be dangerous to your health. A few months ago, the Cleveland Clinic announced it was working with Google to allow patients to store and have easy access to their Medical records. But then, this raises privacy issues. Here to explain is attorney Michael Solomon.

Jeff: What's the benefit of easy access to medical records on the internet?

Mike: It could mean the difference between life and death. Let's say that you're rushed to the Emergency Room. Before beginning treatment, the doctor should know what medications you're on, to determine if there could be harmful interactions. The doctor should know if you have allergies, your family history and other treatments that might be going on. Historically, doctors had to rely on the memories of the patient and other loved ones who are present. But with the Clinic's new program, all this could change --- for the better.

And there's other benefits too. For example, if you winter in Florida, your doctors there could easily check your Cleveland health history.

Jeff: What's the new program about?

Mike: The Cleveland Clinic is testing a pilot program for between 1,500 and 10,000 patients to allow them to store medical data such as prescriptions, medical conditions and allergies on a secure Google site. Patients would have the ability to access these records 24/7. The idea is that patients would have all of their records at one location and they could access those records anywhere in the country at any time and their doctors could have access if needed to all of their medical records.

Jeff: Any problems with putting health records on the internet?

Mike: A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine warns that storing medical information with Google or Microsoft or other web sites may put your personal privacy at risk.

In 1996 Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or Hippa, which requires certain "covered entities" to protect your medical information. These covered entities are health plans, health care providers and certain health care clearinghouses, such as billing services. The web sites like Google and Microsoft are not covered entities and therefore may not be bound by privacy restrictions of Hippa. What if Google or Microsoft decides to sell the information? Or, let's assume the web site is not one of the giants but a smaller web site that goes out of business and then sells all of the information to a third party. Worse yet, what if a hacker gets the information. How many times have we heard about major companies having a security breach and disclosing financial information.

Jeff: What should people consider before putting their records on the internet?

Mike: There are 3 steps you should take:

  1. The most important is to know the company you are dealing with. At least with the Cleveland Clinic and Google, they are both substantial companies who would have a lot to lose if they breach your trust.
  2. Avoid new web sites that promise you all of the benefits but who have no track record. These are the companies that may offer privacy and then change there mind later or sell out to a new company that does not have the same privacy rules.
  3. Consider the information that you are putting on the web. Maybe there's certain personal information that would be better held in a paper version and just live with the fact that there is less access.