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Electronic medical records advocates warn of corporate providers


BOSTON In an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, two researchers, who have stated in the past they support electronic medical records, warn that the entry of such companies as Microsoft and Google into personal health records could raise new challenges to the privacy of patient records, according to published reports.

The authors, Kenneth Mandl and Isaac Kohane are physicians and researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston, the primary pediatric teaching hospital of the Harvard Medical School.

The arrival of these new corporate entrants, the authors write, promises to bring “a seismic change” in the control and stewardship of patient information.

As part of a push toward greater individual control of health information, Microsoft and Google have recently begun offering Web-based personal health records. The journal article’s authors describe a new “personalized, health information economy” in which consumers tell physicians, hospitals and other providers what information to send into their personal records, stored by Microsoft or Google. It is the individual who decides with whom to share that information and under what terms.

But Microsoft and Google, the authors note, are not bound by the privacy restrictions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the main law that regulates personal data handling and patient privacy. HIPPA did not anticipate Web-based health records systems like the ones Microsoft and Google now offer.

The authors say that consumer control of personal data under the new, unregulated Web systems could open the door to all kinds of marketing and false advertising from parties eager for valuable patient information. They suggest that HIPPA regulations be extended to the Web.

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