To be actively involved in your own medical care, you need to understand the basics about electronic medical records, health information exchanges, and more. Check out our primer.
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Your physician can use an EHR to look up your medical history and see what he or she did for you. But doctors don't necessarily know what other providers outside their organization have done or prescribed for you. Health information exchanges (HIEs)--like the MedAllies HIE pictured here--aim to close that knowledge gap by allowing providers to exchange data with each other online. Your hospital or healthcare system may build an HIE to connect the hospital with the medical staff. In some areas, regional or community HIEs link the local hospitals, physician practices, labs, pharmacies, and other providers. Some states are building statewide HIEs that connect the regional HIEs as well.
Many consumers are concerned about the privacy and security of their health data when it is exchanged across the Internet. While this is a real issue, state and federal laws require a certain level of security for all individually identifiable patient data. Most HIEs allow you to opt out, but it is rare for consumers to have to opt in for their data to be included in the HIE. On the other hand, Mark Savage of Consumers Union says consumers may be able to indicate who you want to see your data. There may also be audit trails that show who has viewed your information, according to Robert Miller of UCSF, but consumers are often not informed of this capability.