Mobile Health Records and Security

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By Russ Ward (@russcward)

We all agree that going mobile is easier. Some of us even argue that going mobile is better. But is going mobile safer? When it comes to electronic health records (EHR), that’s where the naysayers focus and where even the proponents find shaky ground.

We’re not just talking about useful information. Your health records are some of the most important documentation you have. They could save your life. They are also potentially damning.

Without them, you could get drugs you’re allergic to, receive the wrong diagnosis, lose track of important markers of your condition.

But with them, you can lose approval for insurance.

And with them stolen, someone else can get treatment and send you the bill.

There is, clearly, a huge danger in your health records falling into the wrong hands. It would be disingenuous to refuse to acknowledge the truth that mobile health records are a proposition with inherent risk. However, they are not just a proposition – they are a growing reality.

This is because there are a variety of benefits to electronic health records – and not just the refrain of “easier!”

  • They can reduce the potential for human error. No papers to slip out of manila folders; no charts mis-alphabetized; no boxes of records accidentally sent to the storage facility. (See one doctor’s reasons.)
  • They can make it more likely that doctors will report adverse events, according to a survey sponsored by Pfizer.
  • Your information is available faster and in a more organized way, making the best care possible quicker.

How can we get the benefits while minimizing the risks? Moreover, how can your work minimize those risks?

  • Hacking – digital theft – is a worry of many people. Digital encryption and authentication are problems that need more sophisticated solutions every day. Not only are Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health working on these problems, but a host of smaller solution providers (such as Diversinet) are too.
  • Physical theft is another major reason why digital records are exposed. Laptops and other devices, by virtue of being mobile, are easily stolen. (Check out these examples.) As a professional: do you have strict procedures for asset management? As a patient: is it made clear to you how the laptops, smartphones, tablets and other electronics that your healthcare professionals use are locked down and tracked? (And as a professional: can you help them come up with new and better ways to do that?)
  • Monitoring your credit report comes naturally to most people by now – get the reports every year and make sure there are no errors. Checking out your health records should become just as automatic for patients – and made just as easy to do by providers.

EHR are a fact of life. If your own GP doesn’t have them now, the practice will probably have migrated to digital in six months. For those of us who are not only patients, but also provide solutions in healthcare, the opportunity is there – for us to learn more about them, and then use our dovetailing experiences to improve EHR for everyone.

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