Thursday, June 11, 2009


Americans being asked to give up medical privacy, but there are alternatives

by Larry Geller

Doctor to Doctor communication I keep hearing that our private medical information will have to be kept in one central (government? insurance company?) database in order to lower costs. I hear that’s because when you go to a doctor, they might repeat tests because they don’t know what the previous doctor has already asked for.

You know that once your data—whether medical, financial, or personal—gets out, it is free to roam. A laptop might be stolen in California, and with it your social security number. Or someone might break into a computer in your bank and get possession of your identity.

If there is a central government database with your information on record, it’s just a question of when, not if, the information will get out. They just don’t seem to understand how to safeguard private information.

There is another way to be sure that the second doctor learns what the first doctor did. It does involve electronic medical records, but not a centralized database.

My GP was one of the first in Hawaii, I understand, to use electronic records. He even got into a newspaper article about it. His data is encrypted. If someone were to get hold of it, they’d have nothing they can use. Some of my other doctors are now also computerized, while others hold out with paper charts and records.

Ok, so what’s the secret alternative? If the format of medical records is standardized, then when I go from Doctor A to Doctor B, I ask Doctor A to transmit my records, or just the necessary part, to Doctor B. Of course, the transfer would be encrypted. That’s the key part, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Also, I don’t want any central computer making decisions about my medical care (more than they already do!). If Doc B feels it is important to repeat a test that Doc A recently did, I don’t want any amorphous piece of silicon interfering with that decision.

I might also make arrangements with Doctor A that in case something happens to her/him, I would get a copy of my records in electronic form to go to the next doctor. Or the records could be held in encrypted form in a vendor’s database.

So you see my point—all that’s needed to realize most of the savings that are being discussed is the ability to transmit records electronically, not the requirement that there be one giant database in government or private hands.


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