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Ensuring More Access to Psychiatric Records – The Question of “Privacy”

Psychiatric illnesses have always been stigmatized, which is the major reason no one wants to publicize this personal malady. Usually, a patient’s psychiatric records are kept separate from the other medical records. However, not allowing all treating doctors unhindered access to the patient’s medical records is a dangerous practice. The threat is reinforced if the patient is taking medications for the particular condition.
A John Hopkins team has published the results of a survey they conducted of the psychiatry departments at 18 of the top ranking American hospitals, which highlight this dangerous situation. The team found that less than half of the hospitals had all their inpatient psychiatric records in their electronic medical record systems. Non-psychiatrists were allowed access to those records in only less than 25 percent of the facilities. This “blocking” done with a view to protect the patient’s privacy is actually a disservice to the patients, according to the study.

The patient may fail to receive appropriate care in the absence of complete healthcare data. Data was in fact found which strongly supported the idea of sharing psychiatric records also with other care providers. Researchers found that psychiatric patients were 40% less likely to be readmitted to the healthcare facility within a month after discharge in facilities that allowed full access to their medical records. This is a sure indicator that these patients received better care.

Dr. Adam I. Kaplin, the lead author of the study, is of the view that doctors are not doing any favors to patients with psychiatric issues by treating their illnesses differently from other illnesses. He pointed out the danger inherent in not sharing full information with all treating doctors. For instance, an ER doctor who doesn’t have the vital information that a patient is on a psychiatric medication may very well prescribe other drugs that can interfere with those meds. Doctors who do not have the information that a person has depression, she cannot address that risk factor.

What about the patients? What is their stand on this? What about medical records needed for medical record review and other purposes?

  • Studies have shown that most patients want their records to be kept confidential.
  • Patients’ major concern regarding electronic medical records was the possible breach of confidentiality.
  • However, only 5% of patients refused to transfer their records from paper to an electronic system.

It is obvious that patients would not object to full sharing of their medical records if they are educated on the merits of sharing medical records. Dr. Kaplin says, “If you have electronic medical records, that is a good step in the right direction.  But what you really need to do is share the records with non-psychiatrists. It will really make a difference in terms of quality of care and readmission rates. Let’s not keep mental health records out in the cold.”

It is up to the healthcare facilities to make sure that patient data is safe. You can ensure patient confidentiality efficiently with electronic records, because any unauthorized access can be easily monitored and action taken against miscreants.

About Rajeev Rajagopal

Rajeev Rajagopal

Manages the day-to-day operations of MOS from NY. With an interest in information technology, I have guided MOS to extensive use of digital technology and the internet that benefits MOS as well as MOS clients.