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The Electronic Medical Battle: Health Benefits vs. Privacy & Security Risks

ehr privacyIt’s the big question with trying to get medical records entirely electronic: can the benefits outweigh the privacy risk? Moreover, can the government provide data security? The Obama administration hopes to have electronic medical records on file for every American by 2014.

The administration has put some pretty compelling incentives in place. First of all, there are big Medicare penalties for the healthcare providers that do not comply with making medical records electronic by 2014. Also, there is $20 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 put aside for the move to electronic medical records.

So what are the two different sides of the battle? As far as the benefits, there would be more efficiency and less paperwork. There would be less dangerous drug interactions occurring, because the electronic system would pick these up, in other words, improved healthcare. Additionally, no matter what health care provider or hospital a patient arrived at, all of their previous medical files would be accessible. As far as the negatives, the system would be a database of all American’s person information. Therefore, there is potential for identity theft, as well as abuse by marketers, employers, and insurance companies. In a paperless world, patients lose the ability to “sign off” to release information.

The goal of regulators at this time is to unfold all of the benefits, while minimizing risk in every way possible. In order to do so, they have begun making different rules to enforce to protect Americans from the security risks. For example, HIPAA put in criminal penalties such 10 years in prison, or large monetary fines, for disclosing medical records with malicious intent or personal advantage. While some of these are already in place, before moving forward to electronic medical records more control and protection will be needed.

In an InformationWeek report, Lisa Gallagher, the senior director of privacy and security for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, said, “Consent puts most of the burden on the patient. The patient has to be involved in every transaction, and the patient needs to be knowledgeable enough to make the consent, and aware that they’re not leaving out things through inaction that might hurt them later on. In my view, Congress weeded out consent as a solution to the privacy problem.”

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