NYT Article Examines Pros and Cons of Electronic Data
A New York Times "Circuits" article today examines the potential costs and benefits of electronic medical records. Many "health care experts" believe that an "increasingly digitized medical world will benefit patients" by putting complete, up-to-date information into doctors' hands and helping patients "make informed decisions." But experts worry that the growing availability of electronic information could threaten medical privacy. For instance, insurers could use medical records to deny an individual coverage, and the Social Security numbers and birth dates included in such records could open the door to identity theft. Recent incidents -- a hacker breaking into a computer at the University of Washington Medical Center and downloading patient files and the University of Michigan inadvertently exposing files on a public Web server -- have fueled fears about a breakdown in medical privacy. But at the same time, many physicians argued that such anxiety should be tempered by electronic records' benefit, such as when a traveling patient can have a doctor in one part of the country instantly look up records located in a different area. According to Janlori Goldman, director of the Health Privacy Project at Georgetown University, the "challenge" of integrating electronic information while protecting privacy will be to make the costs and benefits meet somewhere in the middle. "You're dealing with a terrible conundrum. Medical information is the most personal, sensitive information, and yet people are also desperate to get information about their own health," she said (Hafner, New York Times, 3/1). An accompanying Times article offers suggestions to patients on steps they can take to protect their medical privacy (Hafner, New York Times, 3/1).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.