Security breaches are reported every day. The safety of health information, and the clear fact that there are government-sponsored hackers out there, make us all the more concerned about the safety and security of our health information, now often stored in some protected cloud, or on a server somewhere, and soon available (theoretically to only authorized users) in a state and national Health Information Exchange (HIE). Remember when you had to go to a bank to get cash or make a deposit? Some say we need to go back to paper records because the safety and security of our health information is that important. Do you want to go back to in-person banking, even though we have to replace a credit card occasionally, because of a data breach? Here are five reasons that’s a terrible idea.
- Hurricanes and other natural disasters: The hurricanes Agnes and Katrina totally destroyed health records for many providers, flooding out offices and causing irrecoverable losses for thousands of patients. Do you have all your critical medical records somewhere other than your doctor’s office? Is it electronically stored? Ochsner Medical Clinic, which has an electronic medical record, was up and running with all its records in days after Katrina. Fire and theft can occur in an office. If someone steals a paper chart or it is burned, it’s gone forever.
- Communication efficiency: Those now spoiled by access 24/7 to their own records understand the efficiency. But when a patient called me up in the middle of the night, I could look up their records, make notes, and even send them to a fax machine in a local or distant emergency department, helping myself and the provider in the ER better understand the patient. If I’m unconscious, in an emergency, and need antibiotics, I would want my provider to know if I’m allergic to anything without waiting for the next day and the paper using office to open.
- Reduction in duplication: The ability to aggregate disparate information from multiple sources so that you know that patient has been to five providers for narcotics in the last few days, or has already had CT scans multiple times for the same complaint in the last year may be a valid enough reason.
- Data analytics: Both quality and efficiency data can be gathered from electronic medical records. The benefit of being able to analyze data from millions of patients to find the answers to things we may not have even asked yet is ripe for analysis. Are you delivering the best care? What are you not doing well? Who have you not seen for two years who needs to be seen? All these questions can be answered quickly with electronic records.
- Portability: I had one patient who asked for a copy of his records every time he was seen. He carried them around in a thick ever-growing binder. I dutifully printed out that day’s note for him every time he was seen. Today, he could carry them on a keychain, or store them in a cloud for instant access anywhere.
But, you may say, all that convenience, accessibility, reductions and so forth is not worth the risks we take by exposing the data to the possiblity of hacking and data breach. I’d rather take that chance if it might save my life, or make my care more efficient, and save all of us some money. But you can say ‘no.’ Tell me why you would? Or give me more than these five reasons to continue the march into Health IT?