by Susannah Patton

HEALTH CARE -An End to Medical Forms?

Aug 01, 20053 mins
Data Center

You enter the doctor’s office and sit down. Before you have time to reach for that tattered copy of People, the receptionist hands you the familiar clipboard. But instead of filling in the multipage form, you pull out a printout of your own personal health record and hand it in. That’s the vision of Dr. Edward Fotsch, CEO of Medem. Fotsch wants patients to keep all their medical information online using iHealthRecord, a new service that Medem (a joint venture of the American Medical Association and six other medical societies) introduced in May. In addition to eliminating the pesky chore of filling out patient information forms, iHealthRecord’s goal is to help patients keep track of their medical conditions, medications, insurance and emergency contacts, even as they change jobs and doctors.

More than 100,000 doctors across the country are offering iHealthRecord to patients, and in many cases, patients are asking their doctors to sign on, says Fotsch. “There is an increasing awareness among doctors that patients want services that give them control over their health information,” he says.

The move to put personal health records online is part of the national push toward electronic medical records (EMRs), which many in the industry believe can reduce medical errors as well as health-care costs. But so far, only one-third of large medical practices—and even fewer smaller and solo practices—have switched from paper forms to EMRs. iHealthRecord can help doctors’ offices make the transition to a full-fledged EMR system by providing online patient data ready for transfer.

Although individuals can sign up for iHealthRecord on their own, San Francisco-based Brown & Toland Medical Group, which is rolling out an EMR system to its 1,500 physicians, is offering the service to its patients and doctors. So far, the independent practice association has seen strong interest from both groups, says Nancy Griest, vice president of medical group services. Patients want to consolidate their own medical information for convenience, Griest says, but they also see the value of consolidation when a family member has a health emergency. For example, a wife could provide the password to her husband’s medical record if he were being treated in an out-of-town emergency room. Doctors see the advantage of being able to quickly review what medications a patient has taken and what treatments he’s received in the past.

The iHealthRecord service is free to patients, who log on with a user name and password. Patients control which doctors and family members have access to their record, and they also receive e-mail alerts about such things as FDA warnings on medications. Doctors pay an average of $25 a month for the service, which can also include doctor-patient e-mailing capabilities and websites for their practices.

It remains to be seen, however, whether iHealthRecord and services like it can reassure patients who are nervous about maintaining the privacy of their health information on the Internet. Emily Stewart, a policy analyst with the nonprofit Health Privacy Project, points out that websites such as iHealthRecord, aren’t subject to federal patient privacy guidelines.

Medem’s Fotsch acknowledges that patients are rightly concerned that personal health information be kept private from prying bosses or insurance companies. But, he says, iHealthRecord follows HIPAA guidelines for patient privacy by not using or disclosing a patient’s health-care information without permission. What’s more, he says, patients will be alerted upon log-on if anyone has accessed their records. A separate nonprofit entity, iHealth Alliance, will oversee annual security audits, and Medem says it has no plans to sell the personal data.