Electronic health record systems are a boon and a security risk. Today’s electronic health systems with advanced monitoring capabilities like the ability to detect potentially adverse drug interactions as medications are being prescribed to a patient are critical. No one would question whether this information is a significant benefit.
The electronic health record systems of today are far superior when considered against the alternative, a paper record. The world we live in continues to go digital whether it be our pictures, our videos, or our letters to grandma. It is only natural that our hand- written medical records — stored in folders in the doctor’s office or in our hometown hospital records room — follow the same course. The reality is that the world we live in today is already connected and some might argue that health care as an industry is, in reality, playing catch-up to other industries such as retail and finance.
While some of us may still use paper checks, all of our financial information is housed electronically with our banks and the vast majority of us not only accept, but embrace it. We can now pay our bills online, receive alerts should the balance in our checking account be at risk for overdraft, and even view an electronic version of the check we recently wrote. When we’re checking out at our favorite big-box retail store, we can receive an alert of an instant savings. Why? Because everything about our purchases is being logged and can be tied back to us as individual shoppers.
Further fueling interest in implementing and connecting advanced electronic health record systems is the fact that we are a society on the move, more so now than ever in our nation’s history. As I’m writing this article today, I’m in Orlando, 700 miles from my home on a business trip, along with the tens of thousands of people from around the world who visit this city daily. It is imperative that today’s electronic health-record systems are universally connected so they can share potentially lifesaving medical information from any health-care system. That is the long-term vision for the health-care industry and would provide tremendous value to us as patients. We should want the doctor providing care to have all the potential medical history about us and our families as they begin to make decisions on how to best to treat the situation.
Access to information does come at a price. As medical information is digitized, it becomes accessible and must be secured. Plenty of technologies exist to secure medical information, but another hard reality of the world we live in is that security is a cat and mouse game. There are people around the world who attempt to hack into hospital systems every second of every day, and for the most part, they are unsuccessful due to preventative technologies in place. Regulations are in place that require hospitals with electronic health records to attest to the fact that they have performed annual security audits to ensure proper security measures are in place to protect all medical records.
However, nothing is a guarantee. If a breach of medical information should occur, hospital systems are required, by law, to notify you once the breach is confirmed and make resources available to further discuss the matter with you directly. Breaches do and will continue to occur. Not just in the health-care industry, but in the retail industry, the financial industry, and even in the entertainment industry, as we recently saw with a high profile incident.
As we consider the benefits and risks of the new electronic health-record systems being implemented today by hospitals across the country, we must keep everything in perspective. And that perspective is one of the world we live in being continually connected, continually on the move, and continually enabled with critical life- saving information at the location it is needed.