Could privacy laws and bureaucracy derail universal electronic health records?

Health IT is about to receive a $20 billion infusion from the Federal government.

Aside from the fact that the current generation of electronic records may not be ready for widespread use, there are questions as to whether privacy laws will impede the spread.

In general, doctors adopt the path of least resistance. Throwing in added steps, like filling out additional forms or requiring pre-authorization phone calls, will ensure a quick end to any initiative meant to alter physician behavior.

Balancing patient privacy with ease of digital record adoption is tricky. On one hand, it is true that these records may not protect patient information as securely as one would like. On the other, excessive safeguards will hinder patient care, which is a supposed strength of electronic systems.

For instance, consider the proposed onerous requirement of having patients sign consent forms prior to disclosing health information for the purpose of treatment. Conceivably this could “could cripple efforts to manage chronic diseases like diabetes, which often require coordination of care among many specialists.”

Protecting patient privacy is important. Going overboard, only to handicap coordination of patient care, is a threat that bureaucrats face when encouraging the widespread implementation health IT.

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