Regardless of political ideology, most Americans would agree that the launch of the national healthcare exchange program (healthcare.gov) has been wrecked with difficulties. Each day brings news of additional malfunctions that, in most cases, could have been prevented with more oversight on the part of …someone. With so much attention being paid to getting uninsured Americans signed up for plans (or not, in many cases), little attention has been given to another provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires all patient records to be digitized. This provision, referred to as Meaningful Use of Technology, is set to roll out in 3 stages (for full explanation of Meaningful Use and stages, see www.HealthIT.gov) – each providing more (seamless) integration between healthcare systems and control for patients than the previous. But, will Americans, after having suffered through the recent healthcare technological failures of healthcare.gov, embrace the new electronic records or will they shy away in fear of personal privacy breaches.
A recent study by Xerox suggests that Americans aren’t so keen to have their HIPAA-protected data transferred via email from one doctor to the next. Xerox surveyed over 2,000 U.S. adults and found that 83% are still concerned about the security of electronic health records (EHRs) and only 32% said they want their records to be digitized. Furthermore, only 29% of respondents indicated that they have been informed by their doctors that their records will be digital in the near future. Many consumer concerns stem from the possibility of records being stolen by hackers, the potential for misuse of personal information, and the inability for physicians to access patient records during a power (or computer) outage. Valid reasons for concern – and this study doesn’t take into account what impact the healthcare exchange problems will have on people’s faith in the overall system. Though not directly related, attitudes towards healthcare information sharing will surely be impacted.
Nevertheless, new technologies are being developed every day to provide smooth sharing of EHRs between doctors, pharmacies and patients. Healthcare apps are among the most popular downloads to smartphones – indicating that people seem to want to take more control (or at least track) their health. However, most of these apps monitor rather benign functions such as; heart rate, sleep patterns and exercise routines – a far cry from the information that might be contained in one’s medical file! It remains to be seen whether our need for control and information will outweigh our need to feel secure.