Concerns on digitized medical records
This weekend I read with interest that New York is building one of the largest computer databases of medical records in the country.
The goal is to create a system that enables both patients and doctors to access medical records in a single place, and to shift from a handwritten, paper-based system of recordkeeping to an electronic one.
When I first heard about the effort to digitize medical records, I thought it sounded like a good idea — a way to provide physicians with information patients might not know, and cut down on unnecessary tests and procedures, as well as deadly mistakes. Last fall the Journal of Patient Safety reported that between 210,000 and 440,000 patients who visit the hospital each year die as a result of a preventable medical error. Some of those errors are caused by poor handwriting, and I regarded moving to a computerized system as a potentially life-saving measure.
Lately I’ve been questioning my earlier embrace of electronic medical records.
I haven’t turned against them, but I’ve become a little more skeptical.
Some of my skepticism stems from my deepening concern for privacy, and my distaste for large-scale data collection from both government agencies and corporations. If I’m opposed to the idea of collecting and storing student data in a giant database, shouldn’t I be asking more questions about the state’s effort to create a giant database of medical records?
One of my big issues with the student database was that I didn’t really accept the state’s justification for it — that it would help monitor and improve student academic progress. I also wondered whether enough had been done to address privacy and security concerns; one much-publicized report found that schools throughout the country were handing student data over to private companies without sufficient safeguards or parental consent.
Unlike most large-scale data collection projects, I accept the rationale behind a centralized database of medical records.
And some of the early data looks promising.
According to a recent Associated Press article, a study of Rochester area hospital patients found that patients whose comprehensive medical records were consulted were 30 percent less likely to be admitted to the hospital from the emergency room, were 27 percent less likely to undergo repeated radiological scans and were 55 percent less likely to be readmitted to a hospital within 30 days.
That all sounds good to me.
But I still have questions and concerns about the collection and storage of patient medical data.
A federal study released in January found that the government has failed to put safeguards in place to prevent digitized patient files from being used for inflating costs and overbilling. And it’s unclear whether enough is being done to protect patient privacy.
A Bloomberg Businessweek article reported that state health departments sell patient medical data to data-mining companies. Names and addresses are redacted, but even so, this raises red flags. I don’t really want my medical history to be sold to data-mining companies without my consent. Nor do I want it stolen by cyber-thieves and hackers.
That said, I still see a lot of good in the shift to electronic medical records.
Does the good outweigh the less savory aspects of the system?
It’s probably too early to tell.
But saving lives and making our dysfunctional health care system work a little better, well, those are worthy goals.
In other news, the sad deterioration of youth sports in Schenectady continues.
On Sunday, the Gazette’s Bethany Bump told the story of Schenectady’s Pop Warner football team, which is in danger of disbanding due to a combination of factors, such as the prevalence of families who can’t afford the registration fees and rising costs. This troubling news comes less than a month after we learned about the demise of Schenectady’s youth softball program.
I’ve heard great things about the city’s Pop Warner program, and it would be a shame if it ceased to exist. Youth sports teach responsibility and teamwork, and also give kids something to do.
And there are a lot of kids in Schenectady who need something to do.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 395-3193. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.