Patient Privacy Rights Grades Online Health Record Providers on Protections

Personal health records have been around for awhile. Microsoft’s HealthVault, for instance, entered beta in 2007. Google jumped into the fray not much later with Google Health. Generally, they are designed to be a “one stop shop” for an individual’s health information. Someone who uses the services can upload information themselves, or allow their doctor’s offices (pharmacies, other health care organizations) to upload and/or retrieve information as needed.

In theory, using such services would mean, for instance, that I wouldn’t have to recite the list of medicines I take every time I go to the doctor or to the urgent care center, because I could allow them to access my PHR online, and the record would be right there for them to see. But the idea is proving to be difficult to put into practice.

The first hurdle is interoperability. The different systems need to be able to talk to each other for records to be shared effectively. That’s what Dr. John Halamka and his colleagues on the Health Information Technology Standards Panel have been working on.

Second, the more people learn about how electronic health records work, the more privacy concerns come to the forefront. And even though those who use the different PHR services must acknowledge that they’ve read and agree to the vendor’s privacy policy, do they understand what that policy means? Do they understand what’s happening to the data they store in those systems? Patient Privacy Rights wants to make sure.

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