Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why EHR? Personal Info On Paper

Summary: Wondering why the switch to EHR is necessary? For the same reasons that we no longer have other services on paper. Read on to find out more!

Imagine a bank where instead of using computers, everything reverted to pen and paper. As soon as you handed in your weekly paycheck (no direct deposit for this bank), the banker would write your account number, your social security number, your driver’s license number and other sensitive information onto a slip of paper that would be paper clipped to your money. For the next 24 hours that piece of paper would exchange hands between clerks, couriers, and any other person handling your transaction.

Certainly each of these people would be professionals, and it is safe to assume that the bank would do thorough background checks on each of them. But it would only take a moment for one to get curious and sneak a peek at your information, and they most likely would not get caught.

Once your money was deposited, imagine this computer-less bank then threw your information away, not bothering to shred it or the hundreds of other similar papers with equally sensitive material on them on the grounds that doing so would be too costly. Now imagine that in order to inform you that your money had been deposited properly, they send you not an email or a phone call but a postcard with that same sensitive information on display for anyone delivering the mail or snooping in your mailbox to see.

Would you be a customer at that bank?

Of course not and in fact such a bank would probably be sued into closing its doors for numerous privacy violations, and rightly so. Yet the sad fact is that many of our medical records are handled in the same way that the paperwork at the bank was handled in the scenario above. Medical records follow you around the hospital, are left in baskets outside your room. Several medical professionals per visit examine them, not to mention the technicians who do blood work, analyze x-rays and do other tests. Your records then ultimately sit on a shelf in a storage area until they are needed again or become too old and are thrown away, often without being properly shredded first. Worse still, instead of reporting your results to you directly, some hospitals have even been known to mail test results on postcards, allowing anyone who delivers the mail to know the results of whatever medical test you just had conducted.

It’s really impossible for us to know just how secure paper records are. If someone wants to take your paper records down and glance through them, a quick glance into your file could tell them your social security number, what medications you are taking, and any other information that your doctor has written into your chart, and odds are there will not be anyone around to catch them.

And even when human curiosity is not a factor, human error is. Files can be misplaced, misfiled, lost, or accidentally thrown out. In a paper system, the effectiveness of the paper work is only as good as the people running it, and humans can make mistakes at the end of a long shift.

This is why when you whip out your credit card to pay for your doctor’s visit, the clerk processes it not with pen and paper, but with a credit card swipe into a computer. Why, then, should your medical records be any different?

Interested in learning more about paper medical records and the security risks they pose? Please read A Day In the Life of a Medical Record to follow an actual paper record around.

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