What Should I Ask My Doctor about Electronic Health Records?

As a patient, you need to be proactive about your health information management.

Our health records are an essential item we need to keep track of, even if you don’t access them all the time. Now that healthcare providers have the ability to make them electronic, many benefits come with that ability. As with a change in your personal records at any business, you may have questions about how the new records work. Here are some questions you may want to go over with your healthcare provider so that you can leverage the benefits of EHRs, (sometimes referred to as Electronic Medical Records or EMRs).

Record Safety

Are your records encrypted? You want to make sure that in the process of making access smoother for all your healthcare providers, that your records are still safe. We all know someone who has had some personal information compromised. You want to make it as tough as possible so that not just anyone can see your records.

Is your information password protected? Only certain individuals at the office of your healthcare provider needs to see your information. Ideally, there are levels of access in the office. The receptionist doesn’t need to look at every page or document the nurse does, who may not see everything the doctor sees.

Is there an audit trail for changes? One of the major advantages of EHRs is that you will be able to spot errors in information quickly and easily. So when there is a discrepancy, can you tell who input the information and when? That will not only make sure information is consistent, but also potentially help with training for health professional staff.

What is the notification process if your information is breached? Accidents can happen and you want to know what the protocol is for notifying you of a potential problem. How soon does the office let you know when there is an issue and what their procedure is for handling the issue? Will they tell you what the final resolution is?

Has the staff had rigorous training and are there stiff repercussions for security breaches? The best way to ensure security is often in the staff and provider training of using security measures. Yes, it may be tiresome to sign in every time you come back to the computer screen, but staff need to understand that they would want the same kind of security procedures if it were their information being protected.

How do you report a security issue you have seen yourself? Again, a lack of training or lax follow-through is often to blame when security isn’t what it should be. But don’t be afraid to let your provider know if you are uncomfortable with the actions or inactions of a staff member. Computers should not face patients in a waiting room and screens should time out if someone leaves the computer for a set number of minutes. This is the same protocol for other types of businesses that handle clients’ personal information.

Record Access

How much access will you have? You do want as much access to your own records as possible. You may not always be looking for it, but when you are, you would like it to be available. Will you have 24/7 access in case of an emergency or do you have to wait until the next business day?

Who will make changes/corrections and what is the procedure for that? When there is an error in information, you want to be assured that the information will be corrected as soon as possible. Along with that, you want to make sure that anytime you have a new test or procedure done, both the test and results will be added as soon as possible. This is especially important if this information is relevant to other providers helping you, such as allergy information or a pharmacy filling prescriptions, to avoid a negative drug interaction.

What information is shared with other providers? All of your records don’t need to be sent to a lab or pharmacy for them to be able to do their job well. Only certain pages or maybe even certain fields of a screen need to be sent or accessed by another provider. A good EHR software company will be able to work with your provider to ensure only the needed information is shared.

Does the provider use different types of records for different purposes, such as EHR (records to share with other professionals), EMR (med records), and PHR (patient health records)? If so, you may think your information is safe but you may not be seeing everything that is being sent. Just because you don’t have access to certain records does not mean that your healthcare provider isn’t sharing that information with someone else. Make sure you know who has access to what type of information.

Your electronic health records can be a great resource to provide both you and your healthcare providers with any of your information in a timely manner.  But, you may have questions about how the new records work. These are some questions you may want to go over with your healthcare provider so that you can leverage the benefits of EHRs. Just remember, this is your information, and together with your providers, you want to keep your records both safe and accurate.

Melanie Valenzuela has been writing about health and wellness topics for several years and currently writes on behalf of the EHR software experts at OmniMD. When not writing, she can be found working on her world perspective through travel; or challenging her heart rate through tennis, running or attending a Kansas City Royals baseball game. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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