As healthcare providers increasingly move toward adopting electronic health records (EHR), numerous concerns around the accuracy, privacy and security of patient information have arisen. An EHR includes information about your health such as your medical history, lab tests and results, immunization dates, allergies, radiology images and more.
Most experts agree that the benefits of electronic health records are substantial. It can make healthcare more efficient and less expensive, as well as improve the quality of care by making your medical history easily accessible to all healthcare providers who are involved in your treatment.
Today, there are four types of electronic health records, most of which offer varying views of your medical history:
- Hospital and clinician-hosted records that detail treatment you received at a specific facility or medical practice;
- Insurer-hosted records that give you access to your claims information while you are a member of the insurance plan;
- Employer-sponsored records, hosted by a third party, and designed to help you monitor and improve your health;
- Commercial offerings, such as Microsoft HealthVault, that enable you to control your medical records and link to participating hospitals, pharmacies and labs that store your medical information.
So, what can you do to ensure that your medical information is accurate, comprehensive and protected? Here are some steps you can take:
Speak with your doctor
Talk with your physician about confidentiality concerns. Find out who has access to your health information and what information is required for insurance purposes.
Obtain and review a copy of your medical records
Know what is in the reports and correct any erroneous information. If you have children, get copies of their records as well.
Read the fine print
When you visit the doctor, you will automatically be asked to read and sign certain forms that allow information to be released to the insurance company, your employer and others. You may be able to prevent some of the information from being released by revising the form.
Note: Be sure to initial and date your revisions and make your healthcare provider aware of your wishes so it can be included in your EHR.
If you want a specific condition to be kept confidential, provide a written notice prior to your doctor's appointment.
The letter should make it clear that you do not want information about your condition released to the insurance company and/or to your employer. Also ask that the information be removed or blocked in the electronic version of your records.
Cordless and cellular phones are not secure
Many clinics and hospitals require the use of standard, landline phones when discussing or transmitting medical information to prevent outsiders from "listening in" to the conversations. Ask your provider whether they have such a policy.
Think twice about sharing personal information
When you go online to research medical conditions and when you participate in community health screenings, you may be asked to provide personal information. Be sure you know how your information will be used and who will have access to it. To protect your privacy, you may simply need to refuse to provide it.
Be alert for medical identity theft
Criminals who access your medical records may be able to use your information to obtain medical care. Keep an eye out for bills for medical services you did not receive or medical collection notices on your credit report. If you believe that someone has violated your health information privacy rights, you may be able to file a written complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights.
If you have additional concerns or questions, contact your health provider or insurer.