Online Health Records for Patients Will Still Require Oversight

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Apr. 8, 2013 12:00 am  

(Photo by Accenture)

When a central Arkansas woman logged onto her insurance provider’s website to see her medical records, she was shocked to find they included a diagnosis of cancer. She doesn’t have cancer and never has.

She took steps to correct the records.

The incident helps illustrate a basic tenet about the move in the U.S. toward electronic health records: The patient is ultimately responsible for the accuracy and completeness of his health records. An analogy may be helpful here: Being able to pay your credit card online may ease the chore, but you’re still responsible for ensuring your account is credited.

Patient awareness of the online availability of their records appears to be lacking. And healthy people who rarely go to the doctor may find their first view of their online health records — depending on what is included — jarring, but Dr. Roxane Townsend emphasized that patients have always been entitled to view them.

“As a patient, your records have always been available to you,” said Townsend, the CEO of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Medical Center. “But in the paper world, you needed to come to the hospital because the information is yours but the physical record belongs to the hospital. So you would have to make a request.”

Now, however, patients can, or eventually will be able to, access their records from home, from work, from their smartphones.

“I certainly think the younger people are going to take this up much more quickly than the older people,” said Dr. Randal Hundley, medical director of Arkansas Health Group, the physician group practice of Baptist Health System.

The effort to digitize health care records has been underway for years, but it gained new momentum — and qualified health care providers gained financial incentives — with the 2009 passage by Congress of the Health Information Technology for Economic & Clinical Health Act, known as HITECH.

The law spawned a blizzard of acronyms, chief among them EHR, or electronic health record. The acronym relevant to personal health records is, yes, PHR.

A handy website exists to educate patients about the uses and benefits of a PHR: It is sponsored by the American Health Information Management Association, which is the trade association for health care professionals involved in, yes, the management of health information.

“Medical records and your personal health record (PHR) are not the same thing,” says “Medical records contain information about your health compiled and maintained by each of your healthcare providers. A PHR is information about your health compiled and maintained by you. The difference is in how you use your PHR to improve the quality of your healthcare.”

At their most basic, personal health records can be paper documents: the copies a patient made of the records kept by his primary care doctor, lab results, a list of medications a patient takes. But as the Internet goes, so goes the world, and these documents increasingly are being housed online or in some other digital memory, such as a USB flash drive.



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