Health Records

Personal Health Records: PHRs and Linkage

Some privacy protections exist because independent health care providers maintain separate records about consumers. A dentist has one set of records; a family doctor has another set. It will often be the case that the two sets of records are not linked or shared routinely. However, those who obtain health care from a single health maintenance organization may already have centralized records. Linkage of health records offers some advantages, but not all linkages are necessarily welcome to consumers.

Personal Health Records: PHRs and Security

Security is an important part of privacy. Are PHR records more secure? The answer depends on who maintains the PHR and whether the security of the PHR is sufficient. Information held by health care vendors and insurers is subject to the HIPAA health record security rule. For what it is worth, the HIPAA security rule has attracted less criticism than the HIPAA privacy rule. Whether any given health record keeper is actually doing a good job of complying is hard to say.

Personal Health Records: PHRs and Correction

One basic privacy right is the right to seek correction of personal information that is incorrect or incomplete. This is a difficult area for health records because health care providers do not like to change records, and they strongly resist removing information from a record. Often, the resistance is reasonable. For example, a preliminary diagnosis may turn out to be wrong, but the record of the diagnosis must remain in the record to explain a particular test or treatment.

Personal Health Records: PHRs and Consents for Disclosure

Under HIPAA, if a consumer wants to authorize a covered entity to disclose her records, she will usually be obliged to sign an authorization form. The HIPAA rule prescribes the content of the authorization form and its scope. That rule provides some protections because it makes it harder for a consumer to unknowingly sign a form authorizing the disclosure of health records. For example, if a consumer signs a one-sentence form authorizing anyone with records about the consumer to disclose the records to the bearer of the form, it is unlikely that any doctor or hospital would or should honor that form.

Personal Health Records: PHRs and Privacy Policies

For a non-HIPAA covered PHR, the privacy policy becomes a key document, if it is available. The privacy policy of a PHR vendor may tell consumers how the vendor plans to use personal information. It is possible that a commercial or advertising-supported PHR will do a good job of protecting its clients from uninformed or casual disclosures of personal or health information. It is also possible that a cautious client will not be able to evaluate a PHR vendor’s policy or practice.