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FMG Law Blog Line

Electronic Medical Records – IT Guides for a New Frontier

Posted on: August 27th, 2012

By: Michael Eshman
It is clear that electronic medical records and exchanges are the wave of the future in healthcare. For better or worse, the electronic management and maintenance of files and records will transform the healthcare industry.

In December 2011, Georgia Health News reported on the medical revolution coming with online records and the statewide exchange Georgia is building with the help of a $13 million federal grant. In addition to the economic factors driving the change, in our prior blog post titled “Electronic Medical Records – Saving More Than Trees,” we noted that a recent Harvard study found medical malpractice claims dropped in Massachusetts after doctors began using electronic records. There are great rewards and incentives to adopt electronic medical records and to be part of the expanding record exchanges, both for the quality of care that can be provided to patients and for the economics and efficiency of practice management.

However, any practice using electronic medical records should lean heavily on trusted IT professionals to ensure the privacy and security of the records. As noted by Georgia Health News in the column linked above, the Ponemon Institute reports that the number of reported medical data breaches has increased by 32 percent since 2010.

In a recent brazen attack, hackers accessed the computer network of a small practice in Lake County, Illinois, but instead of merely stealing and reposting the records, they encrypted the records and posted a digital ransom note for payment in exchange for the password. It is unclear whether the records were backed-up, but if not, the hackers effectively held hostage the medical records of patients.

As more practices move to electronic records, and as medical record exchanges expand nationwide, the incidents of attempted hacks will likely increase, and it will fall to the practices and the administrators of the exchanges to manage the risk associated with maintaining and sharing electronic records. Electronic records and exchanges are part of the new frontier for medical providers, and there are great benefits to be gained from the advancements. But providers are wise to focus on the issues of data management and security and to lean on trusted IT professionals and risk managers for guidance.

Thoughts and questions are always welcome.

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