Editorial: Online records a proper prescription for UPMC patients

By Staff Editorial

Medical record storage these days is hardly cutting edge: information sits stuffed on shelves… Medical record storage these days is hardly cutting edge: information sits stuffed on shelves or in cabinets in myriad alphabetized, manila folders. It’s time for an upgrade.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center recently began a process that will allow patients to view parts of their medical records online, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The hospital is working with Google Health to accomplish this.

Online medical records could allow for the rapid, efficient exchange of information between doctor and patient. For example, records can quickly be updated and kept uniform should a patient visit multiple doctors. A patient could easily check test results and cut down on unnecessary calls. Should a patient have an inconsistency or possibly dangerous pairing of medication, online records could provide quick notification.

Such an organizational revamp is important for a large medical institute like UPMC. But online medical records have been around for a few years, and they’ve caused potential privacy concerns among those opposed. While often associated with financial business, online hacking and spying is a concern whenever private information is saved online. Aside from snooping on private data, hackers could try to pilfer money from patients by sending fake bills after examining their records.

The dangers are a possibility, but the impending benefit online records would bring to patient-doctor interaction is substantial. Dr. Bill Fera, vice president of medical technology at UPMC, said that information is secured through encrypted lines similar to how financial information at credit card companies is secured. As UPMC works with Google Health, part of the security also lies in Google’s hands — and Google isn’t exactly a small, new or disreputable company either. Fera said security breaches are more common should a computer with medical information be stolen, and that he hasn’t heard of any problems with hacking involving online medical records.

As it stands, health care employees could compromise medical information lying in folders. William Straw, a California family physician implemented online records through Google Health back in 2008 and told USA Today he considered them more secure.

“Electronic medical records are probably more secure than the paper record we used to have, which could be sitting around … With our records we can trace who had access,” Straw told the paper.

Organizing and synchronizing records would be much easier if done digitally. The health care industry can be notoriously slow — from long stalls in waiting rooms to giving your doctor just a minute to put on his glasses and sift through pages of your records. The industry needs every break it can get as far as expediting its processes. In this case, making a process more efficient would likely actually decrease misreading and other errors on the part of doctors.

For an industry always on the cusp of technology in the operating room, office operations should also be brought up to speed.