Electronic health records (EHRs) are becoming more and more common among health care providers.
Your provider may be moving from paper records to EHRs or may be using them already. EHRs allow providers to use information more effectively to improve the quality and efficiency of your care. In addition, they will not change the privacy protections or security safeguards that apply to your health information.
EHRs and Your Health Information
EHRs are electronic versions of the paper charts in your doctor’s or other health care provider’s office. An EHR may include your medical history, notes and other information about your health, including your symptoms, diagnoses, medications, lab results, vital signs, immunizations and reports from diagnostic tests such as X-rays.
Providers are working with other doctors, hospitals and health plans to find ways to share that information. The information in EHRs can be shared with other organizations involved in your care if the computer systems are set up to talk to each other. Information in these records should only be shared for purposes authorized by law or by you.
Benefits of Having EHRs
When your health care provider uses EHRs, you will likely experience one or more of the following benefits:
Improved quality of care. EHRs allow your doctor to securely share your health information with other providers, which will make it easier for everyone to work together to make sure you are getting the care you need. For example:
• Information about your health conditions, allergies and medications is available in EHRs so that health care providers don’t give you medicine or treatments that might be harmful to you.
• EHR systems are backed up like most computer systems, so if you are in an area affected by a disaster, such as a hurricane, your health information can be retrieved.
• EHRs are available in an emergency. If you are in an accident and are unable to explain your health history, your doctor’s system may be able to share information with the hospital’s system. The hospital will get information about your medical history, so decisions about your emergency care are more informed.
More efficient care.
Doctors using EHRs may find it easier or faster to track your lab results and share progress with you. If your doctors’ systems can share information, one doctor can see test results from another doctor, so the test doesn’t always have to be repeated. This means you are at less risk for side effects, such as radiation from X-rays. When tests are not repeated unnecessarily, it also means you pay less for your health care in copayments and deductibles.
More convenient care.
EHRs can alert providers to contact you when it is time for certain screening tests. When doctors, pharmacies, labs and other members of your health care team are able to share information, you may no longer have to fill out all the same forms over and over again, wait for paper records to be passed from one doctor to the other or carry those records yourself.
Keeping Your Electronic Health Information Secure
Health information is private and should be protected. The federal government put in place the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule to ensure you have rights over your own health information. The government also created the HIPAA Security Rule to require specific protections to safeguard your electronic health information—so you have privacy rights no matter what form your information is in.
Security measures that can be built into EHR systems may include the following:
• Access control tools, such as passwords and PIN numbers, so that access to your information is limited to authorized individuals.
• Encrypting your stored information. That means your health information cannot be read or understood except by those using a system that has a key to decrypt it.
• An audit trail feature, which records who accessed your information, what changes were made and when access and changes occurred.
Federal law requires doctors, hospitals and other health care providers to notify you of a security breach. The law also requires the provider to notify the Secretary of Health and Human Services. If a breach affects more than 500 residents of a state or jurisdiction, the health care provider must also notify prominent media outlets serving the state or jurisdiction. This requirement makes sure patients know if something has gone wrong with the protection of their information and helps keep providers accountable for EHR protection.
To learn more, visit www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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