President-Elect Urges Electronic Medical Records in 5 Years

The privacy issue becomes even more questionable with the introduction of personal health records -- in short, a do-it-yourself approach to keeping track of your medical care. Google, Microsoft and a consortium of large employers known as Dossia Founders Group are just a few of the big Internet names that have begun to allow patients to create and maintain their records online.

Personal health records may be the key to allowing patients to get the most out of electronic medical records. Ideally, Crounse and Webb both noted, these records would let patients manage their medical particulars in much the same way as they manage their financial matters online.

Advocates add that online personal health records can help eliminate redundant tests, better prepare doctors to see patients and result in better-informed patients.

However, critics note that these records are not yet subject to the privacy standards set forth by HIPAA. And although the companies that maintain personal health records promise privacy, one cannot be 100 percent sure if their rights are being abused or how their information is being even used.

Privacy advocates worry mainly about data-mining. And individuals may not even have absolute control over their personal health information. Consider, for example, this clause in Google Health terms and services that applies to personal health records maintained with the company:

When you provide your information through Google Health, you give Google a license to use and distribute it in connection with Google Health and other Google services. However, Google may only use health information you provide as permitted by the Google Health Privacy Policy, your Sharing Authorization, and applicable law.

The clause goes on to reiterate that Google is not a "covered entity" when it comes to HIPAA privacy regulations.

Overture to a Health-Care Overhaul

Still, despite these considerations, proponents of electronic medical records maintain that as technology continues to improve, the use of these resources will become routine for most people.

"I believe that within the last couple of years, health-care information technology has really been able to offer solutions that we can use in this effort," Crounse said.

And Webb added that considering the current state of the country's health-care system, the time is ripe for change -- and government finds toward this effort would be money well spent.

"This is a $200 million to $300 million investment to help a $2.3 trillion part of our economy work better," he said.

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