EMRs and Privacy. Mutually Exclusive?

12 02 2010

Has your doctor been walking into the exam room with a computer or some sort of electronic gadget instead of the paper-stuffed chart that holds your medical history?

If so, she’s switched to the Electronic Medical Record (EMR), a modern-day version of that paper chart.

An EMR system has a lot of pluses going for it. It links with other electronic systems, allowing the physician to do evidence-based research on the fly, it’s easier to quickly find laboratory and diagnostic testing results that can reduce test duplication and delays in treatments, and it improves the accuracy and reliability of medical records in the patient’s chart.

Great as all this sounds, physicians can identify the drawbacks of widespread access to very personal, highly confidential health information. One study in Massachusetts found that over half of the physicians reported being somewhat or very concerned about the possibility of privacy abuses. Another study among mental health care providers found that over half of the psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and therapists surveyed were uncomfortable recording highly confidential information in an electronic health record.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule exists to protect abuses of a patient’s confidential information by requiring safeguards within the electronic system to protect private health information and by setting limits and conditions on how the information can be used and shared.

This is the challenge of EMRs: to allow appropriate access for health care providers while ensuring that personal health information is secure and safe from the potential for abuse.

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