More often these days, patients find their doctors entering information into laptops during their exams.  Why is this happening?   Electronic health records (EHR) are being mandated.  There are many who believe EHRs will lead to faster and more efficient medical care.  Doctors will be able to more quickly exchange medical information about patients, resulting in better diagnoses.  Patients, it is argued, can access their records via portals thus giving them more information on a “real time” basis.

While many patients may value the positive aspects of exchanging EHRs between and among doctors, they still have privacy and security concerns.  As Marianne Kolbasuk McGee recently wrote, patients do worry about with whom their medical data is being shared and whether their data will still be kept private once the EHRs are shared (www.govinfosecurity.com; “Records Exchange Raises Privacy Worries”; April 4th).

Ms. McGee’s article reported on the findings of a new survey done in California of 800 consumers with the results published in the April edition of the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. That survey “…found that more than half of California consumers believe that EHRs worsen information privacy and nearly 43 percent believe they worsen security.”

What can be done? Ms. McGee includes ideas from medical and health experts.  For example, Devore Culver, Executive Director and CEO of HealthInfoNet, Maine’s statewide health information exchange (HIE) said that HIEs and healthcare providers should tell patients very clearly and openly about such key issues as who will get their data and how it will be used.

EHRs aren’t going away.  They contain highly sensitive information so patients should be told exactly how this information will be shared; with whom; and how it will be protected once exchanged between and among providers.