Storing Health Information OnlineJennifer Martinez
The new stock joke could be “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on the Internet.” We search online for information or advice about illnesses and medicines. We connect with our physician, pharmacist, and health insurance company online. Most healthcare providers and insurance companies keep our medical, pharmaceutical, and payment records online. In a phrase, our health is online. Generally, that is a good thing, so long as everyone involved is prudent.
“Sarah has a rash. What is it?”
According to a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 79 percent of us have researched at least one health care topic online. We research symptoms to help us decide whether or not to call our doctor. After we’ve seen the doctor, we search the Internet for second opinions or to learn more about the diagnosis. We search to get more complete information about prescription medicines or to find homeopathic alternatives. Some of us even join online discussions or affinity groups to share medical experiences or seek information.
As we do any or all of these things, there are questions we should consider:
Is the medical information up-to-date? Medical science and technology are advancing rapidly. Yesterday’s medical information may be less than accurate. Check articles and descriptions for dates, and make sure they’re current.
Is the information unbiased? Many medical websites, for instance, are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. The information you find there may be valid, but it will have a point of view. Information from government or educational institution (.gov or .edu) websites is likely to be less biased. Similarly, professional health organizations (.org) are usually good health information resources.
Who is in the discussion group? Online discussion groups can be a way to learn from the experiences of others, but remember, they are not dispensing professional advice. They are just reporting on their own health or the health of someone they know or something they’ve heard or read. It may not be valid or even related to the question you’re asking.
“Chatting” with Your Doctor
Many physicians, particularly those in large organizations, use email and Internet chat to respond to patients’ questions or to follow-up on treatment. It’s a cost-effective and time-efficient way to monitor your health, for both you and your doctor. Because you’re discussing very personal information in such situations, you should make sure your PC is well-protected with Internet security software against intruders.
Who Exactly Is Reading Your Chart?
Chances are, your healthcare records are online. Healthcare providers, insurance companies and others share information about your health over the Internet. That information is private and should be very well-protected, but too often it is not. According to the eHealth Vulnerability Reporting Program (eHVRP), healthcare record systems are vulnerable to being hacked, and in many instances they have been.
More than a few of us have been informed by our healthcare providers or insurance companies that our health records have been hacked. It is probable that even more of us have had our records hacked and have not been told. And it’s not just medical data that’s been hacked, it can be financial as well. What can you do? Ask your providers to disclose what they do to secure your data. Make sure they understand that the security of their systems and your information is important to you and is a factor in your choice of healthcare providers.
Here’s to Your Health
The Internet has a very positive role to play in improving your access to better healthcare information and better healthcare, so long as you and your healthcare providers are prudent. Here’s to your health!
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