Access to Medical Information

Progress is being made toward standardizing and implementing electronic medical records, but presently there is no system in place to ensure access to your medical records or history. One of the biggest blocks to establishing this type of system is ensuring that privacy is maintained.

Again, Hurricane Katrina clearly illustrated the ramifications of not having immediate access to medical and pharmacy records and the need for electronic storage. Several hospitals were severely damaged by the storm and remain closed today. Typically, paper medical records are stored in the basement, where the worst of the flooding took place, and many of these records were lost.

In addition to keeping an up-to-date, brief medical history in an emergency kit, it is advisable to keep medical records for all family members in an off-site place such as a safe deposit box, or send copies to out-of-town relatives to store. Medical record information can be kept updated on a computer and stored on CDs. It can also be saved and e-mailed to you at a designated address accessible from any computer.

This information should include all contact information for health-care practitioners, medications, and prescription information, as well as information such as diagnoses, medical tests and results, medication history, allergies, surgeries, and injuries such as broken bones. All entries should include dates. This should be updated periodically and again e-mailed and or a new CD written. (See Appendix C for suggested formats.)

You can request copies of the results from medical tests from your health-care practitioner and scan them so you can include them in your own electronic records and place the physical copies in a file in the safe deposit box or with your designated out-of-town relatives.

There are a few companies, and more will no doubt be created, that provide services or software for setting up your own electronic medical records. Some offer you the option of storing the information by uploading it to them over the Internet or sending a CD to them.

Some insurance companies offer you an option of entering information on their websites in your own personal portals. They may also add information to this file as information is obtained through medical expenditures such as lab work, medications, and hospitalizations. There are advantages and disadvantages to storing info on such websites. Questions about privacy arise, such as whether this information is then available to the employer who pays for a portion of the medical insurance; preexisting illnesses may be disclosed or misinterpreted. The U.S. Congress is still debating issues of electronic medical records and standards for formatting as well as privacy issues.

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