Think about how wonderful the ability to send a discharge summary by email to a patient straight from your EMR. I think it’s pretty easy to see the tremendous benefits of this type of communication. Send the patient information to one place they probably visit every day and where they can read and process the information away from the hustle and bustle of the clinic. Certainly many doctors have been doing this with little pamphlets or handout sheets with clinical information. Unfortunately, too many of these sheets never get read. Certainly that same thing could happen with an email, but at least the next generation of patients are going to want this information in their email box.
Of course, the problem with sending this information in an email is that email is not secure. Email encryption hasn’t taken hold fast enough to make it encrypted. Is a user’s email box really a secure location where they want their health information? I personally don’t have a problem with it, but I would expect that many people wouldn’t want their health information in their email any more than their regular mailbox. Either way, without the encryption it wouldn’t be difficult for someone to sniff out what’s being sent in an Email containing for example a patient’s discharge. It would be going across the internet in basically plain text.
This situation actually happened in Austrailia a little while back in an article I read called “Unsecured email sparks dispute.” I know I wouldn’t be happy if a clinic just decided to send these unsecured emails. Not so much because I was personally worried about my information being lost. I personally have nothing to hide (yet anyway). However, I would feel uncomfortable patronizing an organization that would deal so flippantly with my information.
I’m sure that someone will chime in that this is the whole purpose of a Patient Portal or EHR interface that allows people a secure method to receive and send protected health information. This is all well and good, but from what I’ve seen this usually requires the doctor’s EMR company to support this type of interaction. Plus, even more serious of an issue is that you’re giving your patients one more login and password that they’ll need to remember. Certainly not a deal breaker, but one more inconvenience for our users and the staff that have to support our users when they forget their password. Unfortunately, I think that this is the future of secured messaging, but I can always hope that there’s something better that we’re just missing.
We should also realize that this isn’t going to get any easier. In fact, I think we can reasonably say that this is going to get harder and harder. Don’t be surprised if soon some patient would like their health information somehow incorporated into some site like Facebook. It’s really only a matter of time until some developer creates a health interface into Facebook.
It might not make sense to most people, but the next generation of patients are going to grow up living and breathing their online life in some sort of social network (Facebook is just one example of these). They are very comfortable with transparency and will be interested in being able to track and compare health information with other people. Not to mention interact in a social network with other people who have similar conditions. It seems like this isn’t a question of if, but when this type of interaction will happen.
Even if you think that health information on a social network like Facebook is far fetched, we are already seeing health information propagating to the web in Microsoft’s HealthVault and Google Health. Is this going to be ok? Will it become as synonymous as online banking has become to the banking world? It’s not that far of a stretch to think that Google Health could easily be tied into Google’s OpenSocial platform which would allow a patient’s health information to do all sorts of cool things.
The convergence of Health Care and IT is going to be really interesting. It’s taken health care a while to get going with IT, but I think almost everyone agrees that IT could do amazing things to better the health care a person receives.