Lots of programs designed to increase communication through the use of electronic health records focus on provider to provider, or hospital to hospital communication. With this mentality comes issues involving the compatibility of different software, secure transfer of data, and the requirement that all providers to have an EHR system. Medicare, however, is shifting the focus from providers to patients with the new Blue Button program.
The program, currently available from the federal government for Medicare beneficiaries and veterans, downloads three years of a patient’s medical history to a smartphone app which translates and displays the information in a simple and easy to understand way, according to Kaiser Health News. Dr. Farzad Mostashari, the coordinator for health information technology with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) predicts that if they want it, everyone can get this kind of information within the next year or so. Through smartphone applications and new technologies, patients can have access to the same information that doctors would send to each other.
Technology in the hands of consumers does have its drawbacks. From a logistical perspective, in order for records to be downloaded or pushed to an app, they have to be electronic. According to a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while 72 percent of office based physicians use an EHR system, only 40 percent of practices have a system the meets the definition of at least “basic” requirements.
There are also obvious security concerns. Apps available would be through third party companies and vendors. This means that another party, or company, could have access to patient records. Additionally, the patient could lose access to their data if the company goes out of business or the app stops working. Patient information also isn’t covered under federal privacy and security rules, meaning that anyone should read the app privacy agreement very carefully. Specific things to look for in the agreement can be found in this article. Finally, incomplete EHRs on the apps could lead to dangerous situations, since doctors might not get the full picture.
If done right, EHR apps have the capability to do a lot of good, but there are a lot of reasons to proceed with caution.