ONLINE MEDICAL RECORDS: Sites Look to Cash In on eHealth Trend
Hoping to cash in on the ehealth trend, almost a dozen Internet sites "scrambling to get patient records online" have sprouted up recently, Investor's Business Daily reports. Privately held Web companies such as MyOnlineMedicalRecord.com, PersonalMD.com and MedRecsExpress.com claim they can "improve health care and save lives" by helping patients establish Internet access to their medical records. Matt Corey, a physician assistant and vice president of MedRecs, believes that online medical records "could be the difference between life and death for patients suffering from a heart condition, for example." He said, "The need is obvious. For a patient who comes into the emergency room with an abnormal heart rate, the best thing to do is to look at an old electrocardiogram ... . But most often, that kind of information is unavailable." Corey added that online medical records represent the "next step in patient care" by serving as an extension to patient information bracelets and medical cards. Many of the Web sites provide patients with a card bearing their password and identification number so that, in the case of an accident, medical personnel will be able to consult the victim's medical records online prior to giving care. Dr. Barry Hieb, an analyst at the Gartner Group, said the cards allow doctors "to hit a button and have that information available before you ever walk in the door."
But some critics charge that the sites present serious privacy concerns. Although most online patient-record companies use encryption and other security measures to protect patient information, disclosure "accidents can [still] happen," analysts argue. Jupiter Communications analyst Claudine Singer noted, "If Joe Blow has AIDS, he could be denied a mortgage, insurance or a promotion at work. Your life can be compromised in every level you can imagine." Other critics say that patient use of the service faces significant barriers, as many sites charge a fee and it remains difficult to get records to the online storage firms. "Consumers aren't going to pay for it. They already feel they are paying too much for health care," Singer said, adding that obtaining records from doctors and hospitals is a "significant pain in the neck." But Web site executives dismiss the criticisms and defend their security efforts. Nicola Guy, director of business development for Universal Medical History & Information, said, "We have to make sure that the physicians are credible, so we ask questions that relate to (the patient) and the hospital where they operate, and we check the hospital to make sure the physician exists" (Barlas, 3/20).