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8/26/2014
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National Health Database: Good Medicine Or Privacy Nightmare?

State health information exchanges could eventually pool patient data into a vast national database, but privacy advocates have significant concerns.

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Healthcare IT Cloud Safety: 5 Basics
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State health information exchanges could one day connect, compiling patient data into a vast national database.

Such a centralized repository of information won't necessarily result from a request for proposal and years of integration work. Rather, it's probably starting right now, as states create health information exchanges that ultimately will connect, allowing professionals from throughout the country to access records regardless of location or insurance plan.

Advocates argue that creating a centralized storage center makes sense medically. Patients located on the West Coast, for example, could get treatment from specialists in Boston, assured that clinicians can access their complete and current healthcare information. Patients would no longer spend hours completing duplicate forms for each individual clinician since every provider's office could access all patient records. Risks and costs would drop as test results and other medical information become available nationally.

[Has your organization taken these steps to bolstering security? See 10 Ways To Strengthen Healthcare Security.]

Earlier this year the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology (HIT) unveiled its 10-year interoperability plan, which aims to improve care, cut costs, and enhance patient engagement by enabling government agencies to access patient data from a broader spectrum of providers.

"There is no better time than now to renew our focus on a nationwide, interoperable health IT infrastructure -- one in which all individuals, their families, and their healthcare providers have appropriate access to health information that facilitates informed decision-making, supports coordinated health management, allows patients to be active partners in their health and care, and improves the overall health of our population" the report says.

Access to patients' records regardless of their hometown or primary physician would reduce the number of accidental deaths related to medical errors, said Stephen Cobb, senior security researcher at ESET North America. In 2013, between 210,000 and 400,000 patients in the US died as a result of medical errors, according to the Journal of Patient Safety, with serious harm 10 to 20 times more likely to occur than lethal harm.

"If we had better... access to data, we could solve these [problems]," Cobb said. "Imagine if you were able to [swipe] an unconscious person's fingerprints and pull up the person's records to find they're allergic to latex or penicillin."

On the other hand, the Citizens' Council for Health Freedom argues that centralizing the nation's patient records is dangerous and intrusive. EMR benefits are negligible and unproven, countered Twila Brase, the organization's president and co-founder, and the risks far outweigh any rewards.

"Our government is funneling billions of dollars into systems that will dump all of our private medical records into one giant hub -- accessible by many," Brase said. "The government is touting these procedures as ways to streamline patient care, but they're actually an attempt to capture and store Americans' private medical data and share it with agencies that have nothing to do with health care."

Critics of a national health database worry about where this data will be stored, how it will be used, and who will have access to the information. Despite laws that protect individuals from discrimination due to medical condition, and insurers' inability to ban coverage because of prior medical conditions, skeptics of a nationwide health database fear misuse, abuse, and theft of these personal records. They suspect companies will profit

Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 3:46:51 PM
Re: Consider the source
Not every organization that wants to do away with ACA is filled with wingnuts. This group does. however, seem to have its share of conspiracy theories but on the other hand, it makes logical sense that we are moving toward a time when all state's HIX networks will interconnect and either become one database (unlikely) or accessible from anywhere in the country (very likely, IMHO). The ONC said as much and some privacy advocates are concerned -- which has some merit, i think. I do, however, believe the benefits far outweigh any risks. Any time there's change, especially change regarding storage and access to personal information, you're going to have a hue and cry and lots of worry. That's a good thing. It helps stop worst-case scenarios, I think!

Last year a friend had a stroke while driving solo in California, far from his east coast home. It took EMTs forever to figure out his medical information because he couldn't talk (he has, thankfully, improved since then). Had they been able to simply plug in his name and DOB or license info and learn his conditions, treatment would have been faster -- and better. 
impactnow
IW Pick
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impactnow,
User Rank: Ninja
8/26/2014 | 3:39:03 PM
Safety and security

While I see the benefits of such a system the issues around privacy and security are tremendous. Having universal access to medical record by thousands of medical professionals is great but also very dangerous. It's currently happening at the drugstore clinics like Walgreens and CVS without many even knowing that their medical records are available in their local drugstore. There is so much sensitive data in a patient's medical records the access at so many points is still unnerving.

Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 3:36:11 PM
Consider the source
This "Citizens' Council for Health Freedom" is nothing more than a front for factions that want to undo the ACA. They probably also worry about alien abductions and Sharia law being established in Iowa. 
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