Public divided on electronic medical record privacy risks

Sunday, February 27, 2005

February 28, 2005

YARMOUTH, Maine - U.S. adults are sharply divided on whether the potential privacy risks associated with a patient electronic medical record system outweigh the expected benefits, according to poll results given to the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Harris Interactive survey found that 48% of U.S. adults say the benefits to patients and society of a patient Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system outweighs risks to privacy. On the other hand, 47% of respondents said the risks outweigh the expected benefits. Four percent were undecided.
Of the risks that garnered the most concern: nearly 70% said they worried that sensitive health information might leak because of weak data security. They also worried that medical information would get shared without their knowledge; that computerization could increase medical errors rather than decrease them; and that some people wouldn’t disclose necessary information to health care providers because of worries that it will go into computerized records.
"I am convinced that how the public sees the privacy risks and responses from EMR managers will be absolutely critical to the EMR system's success - or will be a major factor in its failure," said Dr. Alan Westin, a professor at Columbia University who presented the findings to the HHS. "That is the reality that program advocates will need to consider, respond to, and overcome by implementing a range of laws, rules, practices, technology arrangements, privacy education, and positive patient experiences.
Dr. Westin said the most important policy-input resulting from the poll is that eight out of 10 respondents said that offering consumers tools to track their own personal medical information in the new EMR system is important in implementing the system. In fact, 45% considered it very important, and only 17% said they did not see it as important.
Dr. Westin made several recommendations to the committee in light of the survey’s findings. Most notably, he suggested creating a “Privacy by Design Working Group” to conduct privacy risk assessments and develop new privacy rules.