Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Do we risk losing privacy by switching to electronic health records?

There are many people out there who fear that their medical data will be at greater risk for theft once we convert from a paper system to an electronic system. That's a legitimate fear. After all, we've heard many stories where hospitals and health clinics lost patient data when a laptop got stolen or when hackers infiltrated electronic medical databases. It's much more difficult for someone to break into a file room and dig out your paper medical chart.

Given that we now live in a digital era, we must leverage the latest data security measures to ensure patient privacy and data integrity. Sometimes I wonder if online health portals will have more robust IT security measures compared to online banking portals. What do you value more? Your health data privacy or your money in the bank?

It's good to know that researchers are constantly developing new ways to preserve patient privacy. Some are developing algorithms to protect the privacy of patient data while allowing clinical researchers to use the same patient data to answer clinical questions. Other companies are relying on biometric scanners like fingerprint readers and retina scanners to ensure that hackers are not able to "crack" your password and log in as you. 

As hospitals and medical offices switch to electronic health records this year, I hope that administrators and physicians are thinking about the importance of patient privacy as they handle all this electronic patient data.

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