I recently read an article that discussed president-elect Obama’s ambitious plan to computerize all health records in the next five years. The goal of this plan is to improve healthcare quality, while lowering costs, by putting all medical records on a computer database and eventually in a national network. The article discussed the cons of developing such a system (such as high start-up costs, needing to train workers, and privacy issues) as well as the pros (future savings and the creation of more jobs). While I support making healthcare more affordable, and certainly reducing waste and inefficiency, I have some reservations about this plan.
I think medical records ultimately should be digitized and accessed by computer, as computers can make the health industry more efficient and reduce shelving space that paper files require. Digital health records have the problem that they are at the mercy of a functioning computer, and can be affected by bugs and the potential for erroneous data entry. However, I think computers will only continue to get better with time, and should be embraced going forward. The thing that makes me uncomfortable is having my health information stored in a network that can be accessed by anyone in that field. Yes, it would make it a lot easier for a new doctor to see my medical history. But I would rather protect my privacy and have my records sent through snail mail, or maybe through a secure fax system.
That said, I suppose there’s no way to really protect one’s information from the eyes of others. Computers can always be broken into, as can networks, e-mail accounts, and paper files sitting in a doctor’s office. Although I do worry about keeping my health information confidential, especially my herpes diagnosis, I realize it would be very easy for some computer geek to find my personal information even now. Our virtual lives are recorded each time we visit a website (like this one!) or send an e-mail. Even if you’ve cleared your web browser’s “History”, it is still accessible by those who work behind the scenes or have superior computer skills. So in this digital age of ours, I’ve come to accept that there are some things I do, like writing for a herpes website or researching about herpes online, which may end up being seen by a friend, acquaintance, significant other, or empoyer. I either need to accept that risk or develop a lifestyle that’s more in tune with luddites.
My prime concern about this plan is that it is just a distraction from the real solutions that would improve healthcare in the US, which would be to have single-payer healthcare. As it stands, corporations (who care more about the bottom line than your health) own the health industry. They have created a web of confusion and paperwork so that you are discouraged from seeking medical help or given inadequate attention and treatment. It is no wonder that some doctors are now refusing to deal with health insurance companies at all. By eliminating the for-profit nature of the healthcare industry, not only would we save money that is spent on people who wait too long to be treated, but we would also have a much more efficient system than we have now. In my opinion, if Obama and his cabinet truly wanted a more effective, cheap, and efficient healthcare system, the solution is an obvious one. Spending billions of dollars on computerizing medical records is just another degrading attempt to distract us from noticing that our current politicians aren’t really working for us...and maybe to sneak a peak at our medical records while they’re at it.
Published On: January 14, 2009