Over the last couple of years we have been hearing of the push to digitize health records, in hopes of streamlining a patients data for easy access across medical facilities. Yesterday the Mayo clinic announced a partnership with Microsoft’s HealthVault to launch the Mayo Clinic Health Manager, a tool that gives people the ability to store their medical records online as well as sign up for alerts and reminders. This is only the latest in a procession of new online storage services being offered to interested patients.
Using these services you can import your health records from your doctors, hospitals, labs, prescription drug plans, and other healthcare providers by typing them in yourself or uploading data directly from devices such as blood-pressure monitors. Now with just a couple clicks of your mouse, you can view your entire medical history – what medications you have taken, which ones you are currently on, adverse reactions, operations, diagnosis, and even childhood diseases. What’s online is up to you and, if he is a participant in thegovernment supported push for electronic records, your doctor.
We aren’t going to advocate for or against the digitizing of your healthcare history, but we do want to make sure you are taking into consideration the potential dangers of such a move. While the convenience of hopping online to find out what date you started a particular medication may make the process of filling out your insurance claim easier, keep in mind that what’s easy access for you is just as easy for someone else. Yes, we are talking about hackers. Those information pirates that keep developing more and more insidious data-mining processes.
What does it matter if some stranger is copying your medical information? What can it hurt besides your feelings of privacy? A lot, actually.It isn’t just insurance claims that are affected by your medical history, your reputation is also potentially at risk.
M. Eric Johnson, director of the Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, released a paper in which he said he and his fellow researchers “were able to uncover a number of medical records and other files with medical information online, using file-sharing services generally associated with song-swapping, like LimeWire and Kazaa”. He went on to note that many of our records are already in electronic form on computers in small clinics and laboratories whose security can’t begin to match that offered by the larger data storage facilities.
Johnson cites numerous instances of leaked records leading to identity theft, medical insurance fraud, and even financial fraud. Don’t forget, your social security number is more often than not is included in your medical records, and adding that information to identifying data such as your date of birth, address, and full name give thieves everything they need to make a profit from your information.
When you are considering making your records electronic, make sure you choose a company that has multiple safeguards in place. While there are always ways around even the toughest Internet security, the likelihood of keeping your information private greatly increases depending what program provider you go with. Google Health has partnered with Medco, as Microsoft’s HealthVault has teamed up with the Mayo Clinic, giving the resulting storage systems more clout than lesser known companies such as iHealthRecord or myPHR, but before you make a choice, research them well – your private data is on the line!
Image from here.