Health Records: To Digitize or Not to Digitize?

October 11, 2013 by

“Its 10PM, do you know where your health records are?”

Remember those late evening ads on TV that had parents think twice about the whereabouts of their children? I’d like you think about this example in the context of your health records. Most of our health records are with the physicians, clinics, and hospitals that provided medical care to us. Today, some of us may have our records available through a web portal, but chances are fewer people have all their medical information consolidated in one place.

We also know most of us wish we had copies of our records when we are in a healthcare emergency. It’s frustrating when our health system and your medical needs are unable to be on the same page; my page.

There is hope! In a world of increasing digital consolidation, healthcare information is catching up.

Most of us may have records in one form or another, but few are consolidated in one location in a shareable, digital format. For those who do have them all in one place, they are probably not in a digital format, ready to be shared and accessed by health professionals.

The file drawer at home is a good start but limited in its practicality.

Access to consolidated health information is important, but so too is the power of the digital nature of information. We have certainly seen what the financial industry has done with our digital financial information. For health, we should have the same ability to review our history in order to move forward with better preventative care options.

“As consumers, we like technology best when it works in the background. No fuss, no hurdles, just tell me when I am due for my next check-up, my child’s well-baby visit, or the next series of vaccines. We can be greatly helped by such preventative measures only if our health information is in a digital format.” John Phelan, Founder & CEO

So, we may know where our health records are, but we may not be able to access them in the emergency room, at 10 PM at night. Should we care?

The next series of blog posts will offer my thoughts, and the thoughts of others on this increasingly important issue. I will try to argue that we as individual healthcare consumers should and do care about our past, current, and future health information, and the efficient and effective delivery of this healthcare and the healthcare of those we love and care for depends on it.

Today’s medical information transformation in the US is in full swing, going through a tremendous transition from paper records to digital records. Through Government incentives, hospitals and physicians are leading the way to digitizing our medical experience. These exciting times leave me the following questions:

  1. Where does that leave us, the individual? Today, we are armed with better technology and online access and information for so many of our daily transactional activities.
  2. Where is my digital health information?
  3. What are my choices and what is right for me?

This article focuses on us, the consumer, and how we can make the best choices today concerning our health information.

Here are three tips I believe would be helpful to all medical consumers:

We all have a legal right to a copy of our health records. Please exercise this right!!

Established in 1996 when the Congress passed the first HIPAA act, this was the first time that we consumers had a legal right to have a copy of our health records. So, when you visit your providers, make a habit of asking them that you would like to have a copy of your records from the visit. Treat this like a check-out process. You are not making any judgments here, just exercising your rights and collecting useful information.

Study Your Health Records

Once you have the health record copy, look it over, examine it as if you were a CSI investigator. Circle words, areas that are mysterious to you, and remember to ask the doctor about this in following visits. Your doctor needs to know that you are looking at your records. People only respect what you inspect. It’s no fault of our doctors if we never ask questions. So dig in and study your own health information.

Organize and Store Your Health Records

Now that you are collecting health information, for yourself and possibly others, you need to consider having them stored and the information digitized.

The storing options may include copying and scanning to a USB drive or scanning and uploading into some document storage company. Unfortunately, a USB drive or a document storage company will not digitize the actual health information contained in your records. These efforts create a picture of the page in the form of a PDF or JPEG static image.

This is OK for a start, but the full value of your detailed health values, like your weight, your cholesterol, blood pressure etc. is not available to be included in health dashboards, in preventative measures, in any areas where the “structured data” can be used to better manage health care. This is where digital health information shines, and I believe in our hands, we can have a substantial impact of the quality and consistency of health care we receive.


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Founder of ZweenaJohn Phelan | Founder & CEO

With over 17 years of healthcare and pharmaceutical experience, John is the vision behind Zweena. He left the pharmaceutical industry to embark on a great opportunity to help shape and influence the developing consumer healthcare movement.

John currently resides in Princeton, NJ with his wife and four children.

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