Convenience at the Cost of Privacy: Medical Records in an Electronic Age
Regular readers of this blog know that I occasionally am requested to allow a guest blogger to post here. The following is a guest blog post from Alexis Bonari at onlinedegrees.org.
When paper documentation was standard, privacy issues were fairly easy to legislate and resolve. With the advent of electronic records, HIPAA legislation became more complex. Still there are several areas of record keeping that pose potential problems for those who are trying to maintain patient privacy (http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs8a-hipaa.htm).
E-mails are easy to send and hard for companies to track. Often, healthcare professionals are tempted to include case information in their e-mails. Once information is sent to an unmonitored e-mail account, it is impossible to determine who is viewing the records. Although hospitals and clinics attempt to limit the information leakage by monitoring employee e-mail, they inevitably miss most privacy breaches.
How long to keep the documents:
Electronic documents are easily erased or stored on the wrong locations. This results in patient records existing for longer than the originally intended duration or being erased. Patients often order their records only to find that those records have been lost in the shuffle of electronic documents. Worse, they find that the documents have been kept on file long after they should have been deleted.
Like any other unpaid debt, bills for medical procedures are often sent to collections agencies. After a certain period of time, the bill late payments show up on your credit report. Until a few years ago, the name of the medical institution owed appeared on your credit report. Anyone who runs a background can see how much money is owed in delinquent medical bills.
Given enough time, database systems and patient record keeping policies will catch up with the technology and legislation. Until then, hospitals and other healthcare institutions will have to troubleshoot breaches in patient privacy on a case-by-case basis.
Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at onlinedegrees.org, researching areas of online colleges. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.