Technology must play a central role for proposed health care reform to
contain costs, improve access, and save lives. A smart, ubiquitous electronic
medical record system is certainly a big part of the package, but will we have
to sacrifice our privacy to reach these lofty goals?
“A key part of health care reform involves the use of technology to address
a number of issues such as access, value, and cost,” says former Sen. Bill
Frist, R-Tenn., a former heart-lung transplant surgeon. He made his comments at
the General Electric Healthymagination conference in New York City.
Since Jan. 1, 2006, a prescription drug plan -- also called Medicare Part D -- has been available to people with Medicare. This gives you some insurance coverage for brand name and generic prescription drugs. Medicare works with insurers and other private companies to offer a number of different plans.
You have quite a few options. You can:
Buy a plan that offers the drug benefit alone.
Choose a Medicare Advantage plan that has prescription drug benefits.
Keep an existing Medigap plan...
An electronic medical record is a digital and portable version of the
current paper file system that would be accessible to all doctors. That means
that whenever you see a new physician, you could stop filling out endless paper
forms, as your doctor could access everything about you on the computer.
"Imagine a world where everything important about a patient is known to the
physician the first time that patient presents,” says Andrew Rubin, vice
president for NYU Medical Center Clinical Affairs and Affiliates in New York
City. Rubin says it isn’t about finding out your medical “secrets,” but about
sharing important information with doctors who may not know your history.
“No one doctor currently has complete cradle to grave medical records and a
lot of things fall through the cracks as a result,” says Marie Savard, MD, a
clinical associate professor of internal medicine at the University of
Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and author of How to Save Your Own
“We know that the ability to make a diagnosis is based more on medical
records and your history than blood work and an exam.”
“Having your lifelong history right there will actually assure that the
diagnosis is more accurate and fewer mistakes will get made,” Savard says.
But “an electronic medical record is only as good as its availability,” she
says. “All these benefits are only possible if the information is in an open
network and everyone with permission has unfettered access,” she says.
Rubin agrees: “We need to be able to implement an electronic medical record
where physicians can talk to each other about patients, and hospitals and
physicians can communicate back and forth and share critical information on
tests done and previous diagnoses, so that everyone involved has the patient’s
medical history at their fingertips,”
This will ultimately save money by reducing unnecessary, repeat tests, and
cutting back on the time it takes to make diagnosis, Rubin says.
But it also opens a whole new can of worms.
EMR: The privacy pitfall
It’s one thing to have your financial information online, but your health
information is another story altogether. Many people have real fears about what
could happen if their medical records fell into the wrong hands.