Convenience vs. Privacy

here is a lot of online discussion lately about Google’s plans to launch an online storage and retrieval system for your medical records. The idea is that you could voluntarily transfer all of your electronic medical data to Google for storage in their database. Your medical records would then be available for retrieval by you (or anyone with your password) anywhere, anytime.  This means that you no longer have your medical information scattered in bits and pieces with different doctors, different insurance companies, different hospitals; it is all kept in one comprehensive file. Another benefit is, of course, immediate access. No more calling the doctor, paying copying fees, or waiting 24 hours to have access to your own records.

The downside?  You guessed it — your privacy. Because Google is a third-party service, it would not be covered by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Under HIPAA, all medical information is considered classified and privileged between doctor and patient, and cannot be shared with any other person or entity without the express permission of the patient. By giving your medical records to a third party service you would be waiving the strict privacy rules provided by HIPAA.

At our office, we provide our clients membership in a service offering electronic storage of their legal health care documents such as the Advanced Health Care Directive, HIPAA Authorization form, and emergency contacts. This is different from Google’s proposed online storage because the membership service does not store the client’s actual medical records, but it stores documents indicating who has the authorization to access your medical record.  Our clients appreciate the service because they have a more immediate level of access to their legal documents in case of emergency, yet maintain the privacy of their medical information.

Google has not officially launched their service yet, and it will be interesting to see how the online discussions about convenience vs. privacy evolve as the time draws near.