PHRs: Promise vs. Problems

The US government is pressing to convert the nation’s health care system to electronic health records, wiring all our personal health records (PHRs) together for instant access. Why hasn’t America already gone digital? The biggest obstacle is not cost, but the fact that Americans’ electronic health records are not private. Medical privacy is your right to control access to personal medical records.

Electronic PHRs are being promoted as an elegant, technical solution to what ails the American health care system. They are ripe with great potential: for access anywhere, catching errors, lowering costs, and for opening the doors to research on a scale that will revolutionize the knowledge and treatment of disease. Electronic PHRs could also fix many annoyances that make health care so unpleasant. Annoyances like being unable to get electronic copies of medical records and tests, being unable to communicate electronically with doctors, schedule appointments, or being unable to compare the quality, costs, or effectiveness of doctors and hospitals.

But doctors are not the only ones who can see our medical records. Without federal law guaranteeing consumers’ rights to privacy, 600,000 to 800,000 health-related corporations and government agencies access and use our medical records without our knowledge or permission for business and other purposes that have nothing to do with improving our health. Employers, insurers, and bankers are snooping in our PHRs.

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