How Your Mental Health May be Affected by Medical Record Digitalization

Deborah Gray Health Guide
  • Many, if not most, aspects of my life are digitized. My photos are online in albums in Picasa. My favorite recipes are entered into recipe software. I use Google Calendar for my appointments and Remember the Milk for my to-do list. Even my knitting projects, yarn stash and needles are cataloged online in Ravelry, a knitting and crochet community site.


    So, let's face it - I'm a computer geek. I strongly believe, that for me at least, it's the best way to stay organized and share things. Given that, you would think that I would be jumping for joy at the news that President-elect Obama is going to push for digitization of all medical records.

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    Not exactly. I'm of two minds about it.


    I know that it absolutely makes sense in many ways. Fewer medication errors. Seamless sharing of records between your doctors. No more phone calls to get referrals or going to the doctor's office to pick up your scans to bring somewhere else.

    Actually, the medical group that my general practitioner and neurologist belong to has started digitizing all medical records. There's a laptop now in each exam room. Sure, I could switch doctors, but first of all, I like my doctors. And secondly, I strongly suspect that eventually all doctors will go this route.


    I've even taken a stab at entering all of my medical information online using Google Health. I wanted to have all of my medical history in one place. But I didn't get too far with it, though, and it wasn't completely due to the clunkiness of the system or lack of features.It was my concern about security.


    Here's the thing - I only put online the information that I wouldn't mind seeing on the front page of The New York Times. Yes, all the online tools I use boast a certain measure of security. But I know too much about computers to be easy in my mind about it.


    First of all, you need to implicitly trust the company and all the employees that have access to your data. Let's say you do. Then you have to be 100% confident that their system is secure. That's the real kicker.


    Anyone who tells you that their system is 100% secure, is either lying or fooling themselves. Computer systems are built by humans, and there's a flaw to be exploited in every single one. Just ask the media companies. Days or even hours after they release a movie or game with the newest, best security measures, it's posted for free download online.


    But in the same way that I've held back from putting financial information online, I'm leery to put my private medical information online. Do I care if anyone knows I have kidney stones? Not really. And I've written about my MS and depression publicly, so my particular situation is unique. But would I want my son's medical records to be public? No.


    The potential for abuse of digitized medical records exists. The break-in of one of these databases could be devastating for people with conditions that could embarrass them or affect their ability to get jobs or credit, to adopt children, etc. What if an unscrupulous hacker blackmailed people with medical conditions that they wanted to keep secret?


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    Despite my uneasiness, I'm resigned to the fact that digitization of medical records is going to happen eventually. We will give up privacy in favor of convenience. I know that what I'm saying is counter to what we will hear from everyone involved with these projects. And I really hope I'm wrong.


Published On: January 19, 2009