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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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.
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