Consumers Worry About Privacy of Online Health Info

What do you do when you've got symptoms you've never had before, or when you hear of a new health discovery in the news? If you're like most Americans, you go online to learn more. That's the not-so-surprising conclusion of a recent Centers for Disease Control survey. What may be surprising, though, is how paranoid we are of having all this information out there in cyberspace.President Obama is pushing for improving the healthcare delivery system's clinical computing infrastructure, and for getting all citizens access to electronic health records, at a time when Americans' habits for gathering, retrieving, storing, and sharing health-care information have largely shifted to going online. But the survey shows that while 51% of adults between 18 and 64 had used the Internet to look up health information during the past 12 months, only 5% of adults communicated with a healthcare provider by email. (Not to mention the fact that 26% of adults, according to the study, haven't used the internet at all.) Just 6% requested a refill of a prescription on the Internet, and not even 3% had made an appointment with a health care provider online.

What's going on? Consumers don't have a problem with looking up health information online, but they're apparently concerned about security and confidentiality on medical or personal health issues. And their concerns may be justified. Despite the overall push on healthcare providers to switch to electronic health records, it's hard to tell how well these complex health information technology systems are being implemented and used.

In the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston urged better monitoring of electronic health records. The researchers recently submitted an $18 million proposal to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to begin addressing electronic health record system design and implementation issues. With the growing use of health information technology, let's hope someone's taking note.
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