Dispelling Security Fears About Electronic Medical and Health Records
If this last year has taught us anything, it’s how our digital connectedness made it possible for those who were at home to still have access to their workplaces, friends and family, and most of all, quality medical care. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telehealth visits increased by 50% at the start of the pandemic and even hit an increase of 153% by the late spring of 2020. Without the access of electronic medical records and electronic health records, many healthcare providers would have been flying blind as to their patient’s needs if they had no access to hard copies of their medical records. This is just one example of how electronic medical records have enhanced our healthcare system. However, no matter how secure and efficient these records become, many patients will still worry about their privacy and sensitive data being lost or disclosed to someone who does not have permission or, worse yet, to someone with malicious intent. Let’s take a closer look at Electronic Medical and Health Records, their goals, advantages and allay any concerns you may have about potential problems with these records.
What Are Electronic Medical and Health Records?
Remember the manilla file folder that your healthcare provider would jot notes in about your health, symptoms, tests, and treatments? That was the “technology” used for years and years. Almost since the beginning of modern healthcare, medical professionals have been keeping track of patient data. For decades, doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers would keep your pertinent data in a paper file that contained all of your medical history. Electronic Medical Records (EMR) are often confused with Electronic Health Records (EHR) and mistakenly the acronyms are used interchangeably. Electronic Medical Records are medical records that are meant to be used within a medical or dental practice and not shared with the outside healthcare world. An electronic medical record contains information such as, “past medical history, medications, visit summaries, demographics, and insurance information.”Electronic Health Records, on the other hand, are also digital records but these can be more agile in that they are shareable with other nurses, doctors, specialists, laboratories, and the patient themselves. EHRs include a full spectrum of information and data on patients including: past medical history, demographic information, immunization dates, blood type, list of allergies, lab results, radiology images, progress notes, encounter notes, physician recommendations, diagnoses, medication history, past procedures, and data imported from personal wellness devices. The shareability of the EHR is its greatest strength. It allows providers and patients alike to share the information with specialists to coordinate care and make informed decisions.In both cases, the sharing of information is done in a secure way as mandated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. With the passage of this act, medical professionals are obligated to protect the data and interests of their patients. In fact, you have probably signed a HIPAA form at your doctor’s office on several occasions. That form includes all the ways that your provider must, administratively and physically, protect your patient data.
The Goals of Electronic Health & Medical Records
When healthcare professionals and patients were required to switch from the antiquated paper system to a more efficient digital form of record keeping the incentives were multifold. Under the Obama Administration (2009), financial incentives were given to both doctors and hospitals that switched over to this process. The goals themselves were an added incentive to improve the healthcare industry and patient experiences as a whole.According to HealthIT.gov, the goals of meaningful use compliance are:
Better clinical outcomes for patients
Improved population health outcomes
Increased transparency and efficiency
More robust research data on health systems
What Are the Advantages of Utilizing Electronic Records?
Before we examine the areas of concern, we thought it important to take a good look at the advantages of electronic records both from an IT perspective and from a healthcare perspective. Patients and healthcare workers alike may wonder what the big deal is regarding the electronic version of these medical records. Take a moment to imagine the red tape one would need to go through to have doctors communicate effectively and efficiently in terms of patient care should an incident arise rather than gain permission to access past records, test results, and treatments digitally. The ability to grant permission and share data outside of the healthcare practice can be a game changer for many patients looking for speciality care. HealthIt.gov outlines the major benefits of using secure electronic records for hospitals, practitioners, and patients as well. Here are a few of the top reasons why many in the medical field believe these processes can help improve patient lives immensely.
Providers can give better managed care with quick, accurate, and up-to-date information in a patient’s EHR.
Emergent care and regular check ups can be improved with EHRs by offering coordinated care between healthcare providers.
Patient care becomes safer due to fewer medical errors, better tracking on prescriptions, and streamlined coding of diagnoses/treatments.
Complete documentation for future access and use in case of a change in medical condition or an emergent condition.
The ability to share data between clinicians and specialists.
Enhanced privacy and security of patient data.
Reduced costs for paperwork and duplication of testing.
Adherence with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that stipulated that all healthcare organizations must implement the use of electronic health records by 2015.
In short, Electronic Health Records can provide a better healthcare experience for patients, access to improved communication within the medical field, increased efficiency, better clinical decision-making, and potentially lower costs for both the provider and patient.
Concerns Regarding Electronic Medical and Health Records
While these types of electronic records do have some amazing benefits that seem to be pushing the healthcare sector into better quality care, some patients (and providers) still have security, training, and usage concerns. Let’s think for a moment about the vast amount of information that could be contained in your medical file.
Personal information like your weight and age that you may want to keep to yourself.
Medical information such as prescriptions and medical issues that you may want to not share with a malicious hacker.
And finally, there is always the concern about financial and payment information being stolen and used in ways that could harm you or your family.
Here are the top concerns of providers and patients regarding electronic health records.
Topping the list of fears is the ever-present security question. Health record software has always been tempting to hackers. The gold mine of sensitive information could be too much to resist for a hacker intent on stealing personal and financial information for future use.According to the latest Protenus Breach Barometer, “healthcare hacking rose 42% in 2020.” Nearly 31 million patients were impacted by hacking alone last year. This is the fifth straight year that these numbers have increased! These trends are concerning, to say the least. How can providers alleviate the fears that patients rightfully have given the increase in hacks over the last five years? Providers should adopt a series of “best practices” and explain the steps they are taking to protect patient data directly to their clientele. These should include:
set guidelines for those who can access the protected health information (PHI),
use of administrative safeguards and physical safeguards,
maintain and update software, and
keep your IT department or Managed IT Provider in the loop regarding personnel changes.
Poorly Designed Interface
While patients worry about security, nurses and doctors have concerns about the day-to-day use and design of the software. Was it designed to make patient visits go smoothly? Is changing between screens quick and efficient? Is it easy to access tests, scans, and other information needed to make an accurate diagnosis? Is the software clunky or difficult to learn?Providers should look for software that is intuitive and easy to navigate. Remember the fewer the clicks and mouse movements, the easier patient care will go and the fewer mistakes will be made.
Going hand-in-hand with the need to have an easy to navigate system is staff training. The better your tech team does at training the members of your practice, the fewer mistakes your providers will make on input. The less tech savvy of your team may give some push back to new software, so you may want to start your training with the most tech adept of your team members. Those team members can then serve as mentors to those that are new to the system. Be sure to have follow up training sessions to be sure that everyone is able to use the system with as few errors as possible.
Electronic medical and health records are the key to moving our healthcare in the direction of more efficiency, better care, and improved patient experiences. Security, training, and usage may be issues you will want to conquer with your patients and employees. Talk to your Managed IT Provider about what security practices they are putting into play in your system and how these methods can alleviate any concerns your providers and patients may have.