Balancing the Risk and Reward of E-Health Record Systems

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Even though both government and industry organizations have pushed for health care organizations to move to electronic records systems, doctors are still hesitant to do so, according to U.S. News & World Report.


A study headed by Catherine M. DesRoches at Massachusetts General Hospital's Institute for Health Policy found that only 17 percent of U.S. physicians use electronic records systems. Such a system encompasses patients' medical records, prescription lists, problems, and notes from past visits. It allows doctors to order prescriptions and tests, and review results from those tests. An electronic records system also allows patients to easily access and transmit their own medical records when necessary.


The roadblocks to broader adoption of electronic health record systems include concerns about implementation costs and return on investment, and about system downtime preventing doctors from seeing patients. Finally, the study indicated that particpants were also concerned that their systems would not be scalable or flexible enough to meet future technology needs.


Despite those concerns, however, physicians who do have electronic health records systems in place are "very satisfied with them," U.S. News & World Report says.


What doesn't come out in this particular piece, however, is that many physicians are also concerned about the security risks that e-health records systems present. And then there are the privacy issues raised by such initiatives as Google Health.


If these systems are going to work well and still protect patient information, strict requirements regarding how and by whom they are accessed will have to be in place, and those requirements will have to be enforced. What's more, because humans will still be involved in the process and humans screw up sometimes, patients will have to be willing to risk the privacy of their information in exchange for the convenience that such systems provide.