Medical patients are becoming more comfortable with the idea of electronic health records (EHRs), especially as they see the new record management system become more prominent in the healthcare industry, according to a new study from the National Partnership for Women & Families.
In a survey of nearly 2,000 Americans, it was revealed that 88 to 97 percent of patients see the value of EHRs and believe they have the capacity to improve healthcare. Only 6 percent of those with firsthand experience with EHRs said they were unsatisfied with the technology.
In recent years, healthcare practitioners – largely at the urging of government and industry regulators – have embraced EHRs on a greater scale. But while the technology paves the way for streamlined and more effective medical practices, it can also present data privacy challenges – a notion of which most patients are well aware.
In the United States, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) dictates how EHRs are to be accessed and stored. The act also promises incentive payments for those in the healthcare industry that make meaningful use of the technology by 2017 and penalties for those that don’t.
Beyond the promises of reward and punishment, EHRs offer myriad benefits for healthcare practitioners and their patients. The main advantage is the availability of information. EHRs allow hospitals to share patient data with one another, private practices and insurance providers, ensuring that everyone is working with the same information.
This can vastly improve patient care, as providers can verify medical information, including previous treatment, allergies, medical history, vaccinations and more, without having to go through miles of red tape. This can also be helpful should a patient’s previous provider close shop or go out of business, as his or her medical information will not be lost.
But this availability of information also creates data security and privacy concerns. With EHRs, more people, including doctors, nurses, billing clerks and others, have access to a patient’s information. And – quite essentially – that access isn’t restricted to one healthcare provider. This increases the odds that sensitive information will end up in the wrong hands, and also raises questions about data ownership and governance.
According to the National Partnership’s study, 59 percent of patients believe the use of EHRs will inevitably lead to more sensitive information being stolen, and 51 percent said that current privacy practices do not do enough to keep medical data safe.
However, the benefits apparently outweigh the concerns, as more patients are taking a favorable view of EHRs. The key difference, the study found, is experience with the technology.
According to the report, doctors who already use EHR systems are more likely to see a positive reaction from their patients. And this support is compounded among patients who have looked up their own medical records online.
“For health IT to deliver on its promise, consumers must support it,” said Christine Bechtel, vice president at the National Partnership. “If they don’t, we will see political pressure for repeal and the promise will be squandered. What we found is encouraging, but there are still potential landmines ahead.”
Even patients whose doctors have not yet made the transition see value in EHRs, though to a lesser extent. According to the report, 75 percent of respondents whose doctors use paper records think the move to EHRs would be beneficial.
“The survey shows that patients see tremendous value in the power of electronic health records to improve the way care is delivered by facilitating better communication and helping them become active partners in their own care. Its findings offer important messages about how to build, implement and use health IT systems in ways that are meaningful and beneficial to patients and their families,” added Farzad Mostashari, the National Coordinator of Health IT for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Even as patient support for EHRs grows, data security in the healthcare industry still faces many hurdles. As a December study from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse showed, three of the six largest data breaches of 2011 involved healthcare.
Healthcare records can contain a wealth of information, including patient names, addresses, phone numbers, previous treatments, medications and health insurance information. If this falls into the wrong hands, the patient could be in for a world of trouble, as such incidents can lead to identity theft and more.
Therefore, it is crucial that hospitals, private practices, insurance providers and anyone else that might handle sensitive patient information do so with caution, employing rigid data security practices and ensuring that employees follow protocol. Failure to do so could spell trouble for the patient, as well as the healthcare provider’s reputation.
Data Security News from SimplySecurity.com by Trend Micro