Electronic Records, Private Lives
Appropriate Access continued...
He points to developments such as so-called radio frequency identification,
or RFID technology, currently under development at MIT and other technology
centers, in which minuscule radio-transmitting chips can be buried in
everything from goods on the supermarket shelf to the clothing on your back. A
similar type of technology, using retinal scans, was featured in the Stephen
Spielberg sci-fi thriller Minority Report.
"RFID really could improve communication dramatically, but people are
afraid of being tagged and watched and being countable," Schwaitzberg tells
Still, he says, "millions of Americans are buying something online right
now. Americans seem to be happy to give up information about themselves, and
yet there is a very stalwart group of people who are very concerned."
Schwaitzberg and others who advocate online health records say many of those
fears could be allayed by a well-designed system with checks and balances. For
example, patients could use a personal identification number, or PIN code, to
get access to an electronic medical record, sharing it with doctors or other
health-care providers who need the information, and then changing the code to
ensure privacy when necessary.
That way, someone who becomes injured or sick while traveling could grant
instant access to health records by local doctors.
A bigger barrier to the flow of information, Schwaitzberg says, is the
current hodgepodge of incompatible information systems, many of which are
designed for use only in a specific hospital or group of health centers.
Data for Sale?
If you are one of those people who worry that health-care providers will be
tempted to sell your private medical information to the highest bidder, you
should know that hospitals have an even more powerful incentive to keep that
information under electronic lockdown. That incentive is called HIPAA, for the
bipartisan Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as
the Kennedy-Kassebaum Act of 1996.
The act is designed to encourage the use of electronic transactions in
health-care while safeguarding the security and confidentially of health
information. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
most health insurers, pharmacies, doctors, and other health-care providers are
required to comply with the standards.