Digital Health Records - Will Privacy Be an Issue?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • President Bush began the process of trying to create a standardized, electronic database of medical records to help create efficiency in the health care field. But Barack Obama has gone one step further and indicated his desire to invest in this project and has set a goal of having standardized, computerized health records in five years. In a speech given Thursday, January 8, 2009, President-elect Obama stated, "It won't just save billions of dollars and thousands of jobs - it will save lives by reducing the deadly but preventable medical errors that pervade our health care system."


    Standardized, web-based medical records can allow doctors to communicate more easily, quickly see which treatments and medications have been prescribed and help to coordinate medical treatment for patients.

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    Google currently offers the public a place to have medical records uploaded and added to. Patients can share this information as they see fit. Once signed up for this service, a person creates their individual health profile, indicating any diagnosis he or she may have received, import health records from any medical providers having web based health records and keep track of your medications. The site would alert you of any dangerous interactions between prescribed medications. Once complete, you can view your medical history, share it with doctors or other health personnel, order prescription refills and search for doctors.


    Today, people's privacy is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). But this law does not include anything about medical records that may be stored on the internet and there is nothing in the law to guide or regulates privacy under a web-based program.


    For example, Google, because it is not a health care provider, is not governed under HIPAA. Although there are a number of privacy regulations put into place by Google, their privacy information does include, "A limited number of employees in particular job functions may have access to user information, in order to operate and improve Google Health. Users consent to this limited internal use when they sign up for Google Health."


    In addition, the Terms of Service for using the Google Health Service include the following:


    "When you provide your information through Google Health, you give Google a license to use and distribute it in connection with Google Health and other Google services. However, Google may only use health information you provide as permitted by the Google Health Privacy Policy, your Sharing Authorization, and applicable law. Google is not a "covered entity" under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and the regulations promulgated thereunder ("HIPAA"). As a result, HIPAA does not apply to the transmission of health information by Google to any third party."


    This, however, is not meant to pick on Google on show why patients should not use this service. There are certainly many benefits to having health and medical information accessible and available to different doctors, in order to coordinate care and receive the best possible medical treatment. For example, people being treated for ADHD often have a team of medical personnel: a primary doctor, a psychiatrist and possibly a counselor or psychologist. To help expedite the sharing of medical records, diagnosis and improve communication between different medical providers, services such as Google or standardized web-based medical records can be a great tool.


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    But the privacy issue is still there. Just who will be able to view medical records and what might he or she do with that information?


    What do you think? What do you think needs to be done in order to help advance the medical records but still guarantee privacy?



Published On: January 12, 2009