While having medical records readily available benefits patients medically and financially, there are also important benefits to medical practices.
The majority of patients with chronic illnesses believe the benefits of being able to access their medical records online outweigh the privacy risks, according to a recent study conducted by Accenture. Not coincidentally, the study also found the majority of patients (55%) with chronic conditions feel they have little to no control over their own health information.
Yvonne Li, co-founder of SurDoc, a provider of next generation ultra-secure cloud document-sharing services, says the Accenture survey results match data compiled by her own organization.
“If [a patient goes] to a new doctor or is referred to a specialist, if the medical data is not available, many times the doctor or specialist will reorder the test unnecessarily,” Li explains. “So the patient not only has to pay more for the copay for the test, but also they are subject to more tests done to the body, which may not be good for the patient.”
Benefits all around
Li says that while having medical records readily available is beneficial — medically and financially — to the patient, there are also important benefits to medical practices. The first is clinical. Having the ability to review a patient’s history during diagnosis will enable physicians to formulate better treatment for the patient. But the practice also benefit financially.
“When physicians refer a patient to a specialist, they have to send the [patient’s records] so that the specialist will have a better understanding of what kind of services to perform,” Li says. “With online data transfer and availability, all they have to do is ask the office administrator to click a couple of buttons and the information will be sent securely, and that will save them in terms of administrative costs.”
There’s also the matter of reducing costs associated with liability. Li says that, unfortunately, many physicians she speaks with still send patient information via email because it’s convenient.
“Because of timing issues, because of operation costs, they just use email,” she says. “And that’s what we’re trying to change. Email is not an acceptable method, and sending faxes or burning CDs is time consuming and the activity is not trackable.”
Li says the first thing physicians should do to ensure that patients’ medical information is not only readily available online, but is also secure, is work with a provider who is HIPAA compliant, and whose products ensure that data is protected both in flight and while in storage.
SurDoc’s SurMD line of HIPAA-compliant and HIPAA-certified services recently introduced SurLink as a free service to all customers — whomever might be handling patient information. The HIPAA-compliant process allows for efficient distribution of medical records, as well as the ability to backup shared files. And, Li says, it’s easy to use.
“We want to make sure that doctors and hospitals are aware of the potential risk using email. And we want them to understand that the service we provide is as easy as sending email, but with the added benefit of being totally secure and HIPAA compliant.”
Li says that SurDoc has accomplished this by recognizing the human factor.
“Many data leaks are done on the service side by employees, whether intentional or unintentional,” she explains. “Human mistakes are very common. We have these new innovative processes and technologies such that the data being stored on our server is encrypted in such a way that even we don’t have access to it, let alone the hacker. So if somebody hacked into our server, all they get is bits, not information. This is extremely important, and is our unique benefit that our technologies will prevent hackers as well as employees’ mistakes in leaking information. Only the sender or the recipient or account owner will be able to access the information.”
A continuing trend
Li expects that patients, if they haven’t already, will begin to ask their physicians to provide their medical records online. The benefits are numerous. If a patient relocates, or has a medical emergency, his or her medical information is readily available. That can also help patients avoid reimbursement hassles with their insurance carrier.
“The ideal scenario is that if the patient has a place to store all their medical records, history and billing, it will solve a lot of problems,” Li says. “Patients have all their medical records in one place, and physicians save money and reduce their liability.”