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Future Health

The Pros and Cons to Electronic Medical Records

September 27, 2013 

Technology is one of the tools to keep health care costs under control, and to help improve access to health care not just in the United States but across the globe. Electronic medical records are one of the requirements in ObamaCare. But many Americans have concerns about privacy issues when all health care records are digitized.
The benefits of electronic records seem clear: they are complete and portable. No matter where you are when you need medical attention, or whether you change doctors once in a lifetime or once a year, you records will be accessible to the medical professionals treating you. Physicians note that medical records and medical history is more important than blood work and an exam in making a diagnosis. Complete medical records mean more accurate diagnoses, they say.
Most believe it will save time and health care costs because it will help medical professionals avoid duplicating tests, for example. It would help track data over time, identify when individuals are due for preventative visits, and improve overall care.
In order to make these records available, however, they have to be part of an open network in which everyone who has permission has access. That is where the privacy issue arises. Concerns have been raised about security and confidentiality, especially in the face of news of hackers and malware creating problems in banking and other industries. In particular, some people worry about what would happen if an unauthorized individual were able to access their medical files - especially when those files might be about a serious condition, treatment for an addiction, or a mental health issue.
Thus the dilemma: the stronger the safeguards, the more difficult it is for the electronic records to help save time and money. The systems that are on the market include safety nets, such as tracking of every individual who has accessed the file.
All of this makes electronic records more expensive. Estimates are that widespread use will cost tens of billions of dollars. President Obama has recommended federal funds be used to reimburse hospitals and doctors who invest in this technology.
As an individual patient, you likely have no say over whether your record is digitized. But you might want to ask your medical providers about the security and confidentiality of the systems they use.