News of dangerous bacterial infections, large Medicare fraud and other breakdowns in patient safety and care in our healthcare system haunted this year’s Patient Safety Awareness Week. Now, recent findings show, the privacy and safety of your information might be another hidden healthcare danger. Though doctors and healthcare advocates agree that digital medical records, which can capture information like a patient’s address, drug allergies and previous medical history, can help doctors and hospitals to increase the quality of care a patient receives, many also agree that the new system is far from perfect.
Weaknesses in the security and safeguarding of digital medical records are especially disturbing when combined with a push from the federal government to have hospitals and healthcare providers comply with the transition to digital record keeping. Congress provided $27 billion in the 2009 stimulus package specifically to encourage doctors and hospitals to use digital health record systems. Doctors and other providers who do not transition to digital records will face steep cuts to the amount of Medicare fees they can receive, starting in 2015. A few S.C.-based companies and universities are developing systems and technology to help the State stay current in the advance of the digital healthcare wave.
Many experts and patient advocates agree that consumers need more access to, and better understanding of, their digital medical records. Patients also need to be able to monitor their records more closely, to keep false, unclear or inappropriate information from being shared. Unfortunately, recent studies of current systems show many serious gaps in quality and ease of use. Even if a patient can see a complete medical record, which is often not the case, the records are very technical and full of jargon.
A huge risk is how much of a patient’s private information, medical or not, could be viewed by someone outside the healthcare system. The author of a major report on medical system flaws, Arthur B. Robinson, PhD, writes that even though “we are assured that this information is protected by privacy software, there is a constant stream of news about failures of this software.” These security failures are also a major risk for consumers with the presence of data collection agencies which constantly search, or ‘troll,’ the internet for personal information. These agencies then collect and sell personal information to anybody who can pay for it.