Privacy Concerns Abound with Electronic Medical Records

by | Published on Feb 8, 2016 | EHR/EMR

The U.S. government made EMRs (electronic medical records) mandatory with a view to improving the treating physicians’ accessibility to their patients’ medical history and thereby enhancing patient care. The electronic medical record system is expected also to improve and speed up the medical record review process. Obtaining the required patient medical records and reviewing them is a challenging task that many personal injury and medical malpractice attorneys accomplish with the support of specialized medical review services. Confidentiality and privacy are important factors when handling sensitive healthcare data and breach of privacy is a major concern. With EMRs, now there is an increased risk of exposure of patient information.

  • When medical records are available online, there is an increased risk of hackers and cybercriminals getting to them and misusing them.
  • Attorneys specializing in patient privacy rights note that the mental health records of patients are at great risk when available online.
  • Encryption technology and firewalls are not competent enough to prevent hacks and mistakes.
  • Concerns about privacy prevent many patients from disclosing their health information. This has unfortunately led to severe life-threatening consequences because the required medical information is not available to providers.
  • Many people avoid treatment fearing that the healthcare information they share is not kept confidential.
  • According to the Department of Health and Human Services, in the year 2013,
  • 2 million Americans did not seek treatment for mental illness
  • 586,000 Americans did not go for earlier cancer treatment
  • Numerous young Americans suffering from sexually transmitted diseases refused to obtain treatment
  • 150,000 soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD also did not obtain treatment
  • This lack of privacy has also been the major reason for the highest rate of suicide among active duty soldiers in 30 years.

Why are electronic medical records proving to be riskier than paper records? EMRs have numerous access points and each of these may be very vulnerable. On the other hand, paper records that were available with the treating physician were shared, modified and accessed via mailing or faxing only. Thus the access points were clearly known and risk could be minimized. With EMR, patient hospital medical records can be accessed by any doctor who has a patient’s hospital medical record number and a physician password regardless of whether the patient is his/hers or not.

Let us consider patient rights to their medical records. Patients have the right to their health informationand this allows them to take informed decisions regarding their health. Patients can efficiently monitor and adhere to their treatment plans and understand their progress. Patient access to their medical records is important because in an injury claim that calls for comprehensive medical record review, they must be able to obtain their records quickly without any hindrance. Considering the legal obligation of healthcare providers, they are required by law to give the patient his/her records upon request or dispatch them to an authorized person/entity the patient may have designated. Importantly, the provider must not require the patient to go to his/her office to request access or provide proof of identity in person. Neither must the provider require the patient to use a web portal or insist on sending the required records by mail to the patient.

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