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Digital Health Records: Good, Bad, and Ugly

Digital Health Records: Good, Bad, and Ugly

Make no mistake about it. Like it or not, digital health records will soon be the norm. There’s just no stopping technology.

Digital health records are a good thing.

If you’ve ever found yourself in a new doctor’s office or emergency room, filling out paperwork and racking your brain to recall medications, dates, and test results, you understand the reasons behind the push for digital records. At the very least, it’s time consuming, costly, and an added aggravation at the worst possible time. At most, digital records, almost instantly available to physicians and hospitals, will cut down on medical errors and save human lives.

Our current convoluted system makes the gathering of time-sensitive information near impossible. Use of digital technology is the logical thing to do.

Digital health records are a bad thing.

Your medical history is an open book for every medical provider along the way–for life–the same reason it’s a good thing. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

The ugly truth is, whether health records are privately kept, government controlled, or a combination of both, privacy simply cannot be guaranteed. Period.

There are those entrusted with our privacy who will sell us out for profit. Access to medical records could provide valuable information for the unscrupulous among us. And then there are the hackers. Very intelligent and very motivated hackers who will work day and night to crack a code. They’ve done it with our credit histories, social security cards, bank information, and our very identities. They will do it with medical records.

There’s a lot to be gained by going digital but there’s no doubt that we risk our privacy, with potentially devastating consequences. We can no more stop digital health records than we can stop using our credit cards, banks, and identities.

Technology will not be stopped, but we must proceed with extreme caution.

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21 comments

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3:24PM PDT on May 7, 2009

@Hal C.
I support advancement of medical technology. Are medical professionals prepared with technology to take on the responsibilty of protecting patients? I would hope so because patients generate income.

3:03PM PDT on May 7, 2009

use keyword search identity theft DMV, social security numbers, etc

http://dmv.ca.gov/pubs/brochures/fast_facts/ffdl24.htm

May, 2006 (Washington) – The personal data of 26 million American veterans falls into the hands of thieves when a laptop and external drive is stolen from the home of Department of Veterans Affairs computer analyst.

As reported on CNN.com


April, 2007 (Dallas, TX) - A computer stolen from a Neiman Marcus consultant contained social security numbers, birth dates and salaries of nearly 160,000 current and former employees.

As reported on MSNBC.com


June, 2007 (Hilliard, OH) - The names and Social Security numbers of 786,000 Ohio taxpayers were included on a computer storage device stolen from a state intern.

As reported in Data Storage Today

3:10PM PDT on May 6, 2009

Dear readers,
Do not keep online personal health records with popular spaces like 'MyChart'. Instead choose web space where the model is yours. You may want to take legal action against a doctor, hospital, employee or their allies. The Ontario Medical Association and it's doctors and MyChart and others don't want you to recover your expenses from medical malpractice, so they lock you down by requiring that you sign their "USER TERMS OF SERVICE" which will restrict you from defending yourself.

Choose a space on the web where the model is yours. If you find a good one, please send a message to me - John Gilbert: godhas4legs@gmail.com

2:32PM PST on Feb 17, 2009

I don't think I could put the concerns any better. My hope is that most of the medical profession will use this technology responsibly. But, after working for a cardiologist and seeing what happens with pharmaceutical reps, I have my doubts.

6:50PM PST on Feb 14, 2009

"Not everyone understands the technology, however, and it's usually these people who are doubtful."
...Er,sorry to burst your bubble, but the people who understand technology the least are ususally the ones in charge of implementing it. Case in point: I work for a finance company, and I have become aware that our anti-spyware, spam blockers, etc are most often freeware because the management don't understand the importance of this stuff. The employees already know that our own personal info is not safe, since we've had an HR contractor make off with a laptop full of info. Those of us with brains are starting to wonder how safe our customers' information really is.
I have also been a victim of medical care that at least in part involved digitized record keeping. After major surgery, one of the doctors prescribed a medication, and entered it in the hospital's computer which controlled the dispensary so that the nurses could give me the meds. I ended up in sever pain, and one of the nurses was kind enough to check on the medication. She discovered it was the WRONG MED. The doctor had entered in incorrectly. Fortunately, she was able to put the situation to rights before it became lethal.
Digital medical records are only as good as the idiots who will be entering them into the computers in your doctor's office or hospital, and your safety will be in the hands of twits who can't type and the overworked IT guy. Fundamental rule of programming: Garbage In Garbage Out.

6:02AM PST on Feb 14, 2009

As others have posted, e-records are inevitable. The benefits for medical treatment and systems management are evident, speed and completeness of records when needed as well as reduced physical storage space. Privacy and confidentiality are important and, as at least one other blogger here has said, electronic records are more more secure with encryption, passwords, etc. Not everyone understands the technology, however, and it's usually these people who are doubtful. I truly appreciate the right for privacy, but on a larger scale aggregated health e-records can potentially be a huge advantage in health research resulting in a benefit for all of us.

1:36AM PST on Feb 14, 2009

I have studied this issue from the evolution of endlessly more trivial concerns about HIPAA requirements to having my own health provider business information lost by Medicare and by the VHA. If anyone really believes that the EHR database will contain only EHR information, they are naive. Follow the money! How much would this data be worth to hospitals, health or life insurance companies, big pharm, or employers not wishing to hire anyone less than perfect? I have already read of hired hackers gathering this information. Before the Patriot Act and FISA, the NSA boasted that it was building the largest database of information about people in existence. We haven't heard about that for seven years, but a branch of the NSA is moving into an unused Sony industrial building in Dallas, very close to the building in which Microsoft has proposed to host such an "EHR" database. The Navy has a stated intent of having an undetectable rootkit in every computer in existence. Even if the EHR were limited to health information, think for a moment about the really ugly uses to which such information could be used. Do ideas like Eugenics, Final Solution, Genetic Cleansing, or the prevention of the birth of "undesirables" or "allowing" the deaths of those expensive to maintain come to mind? I truly wish I could believe that this technology would do more good than harm, but as a clinical psychologist for over 35 years, I simply can't and don't.

Thomas A. Blood, PHD

10:49PM PST on Feb 13, 2009

I might feel better about it if even an email could be transmitted secure but I don't think we are there, yet. Maybe there is much in the works yet to be seen. Most sick patients do not have the time to debate this issue, that's all.

10:45PM PST on Feb 13, 2009

everyone deserves right to privacy

10:44PM PST on Feb 13, 2009

HIPPA requirements slowed process recalling my time in 2001 with private practice medical office.

No doubt software is state of the art and probably very secure. Routing data most likely is not so much. Industry has not perfected secure email. right.


Unless lawmakers come up with a plan to track accountability, I sense vulnerability for patients privacy protected by all means possible, once information is released, it's out there and most who suffer id theft can tell you what it's like, for a healthy person to correct.
I am thinking of protecting a patient who is already sick and suffering and possibly facing long term medical care, illness or death who may have life savings fall prey to theives scamming these programs etc.

Much to be considered for everyone and one day we may all be elderly and invalid.

It is our responsibility to consider safety first.


First, harm none.

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