While Congress works to establish the framework for increased use of information technology (IT) in health care, some in the private sector are already up and running with tools to allow average Americans to manage and preserve their own health records.
Los Angeles-based MyMedicalRecords.com (MMR) began providing customers with electronic personal health records in October 2005.
According to Robert H. Lorsch, chairman and CEO of the company, “MyMedicalRecords.com goes beyond the vision of the Bush administration and the Senate Bill in that it is the nation’s first truly standardized electronic personal health record relying on technologies available in every home and office today: a fax machine and free PDF reader.” (For more on the Senate bill, see “Senate Approves Electronic Health Records,” page 1.)
Full Access for Patients
Lorsch says the service allows patients to organize a complete, unalterable copy of their personal health record, “just like the colored folders patients have at their doctor’s office.” Subscribers have access to notes, drawings, sketches, lab reports, and even photographs, X-rays, ultrasounds, and scanned images. Whatever information is in the patient’s file can be available to a subscriber from any Internet-connected computer anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day.
Patients and their providers can store documents and images in an MMR account by faxing to a personal “Lifeline” phone number assigned to each individual subscriber.
The Lifeline is the subscriber’s User ID, which, when linked to a password, enables secure access to the account. “And because health care providers fax records directly to a patient’s dedicated Lifeline, each subscriber account is automatically updated after any visit to a health care professional,” Lorsch noted. With a primary and, if desired, secondary password securing the records, an MMR is “as safe as an ATM account,” he said.
MyMedicalRecords.com also incorporates a dedicated voicemail box allowing health care professionals to communicate with their patients in complete privacy. A built-in calendar function notifies users when it’s time for a prescription refill and reminds them of important appointments. “When a user receives a fax or voice message, or has a prescription refill or doctor appointment, they can be notified via e-mail, pager, or even text message. The system works in the background to serve the user, not the other way around,” said Lorsch.
Virtual Safe Deposit Box
Lorsch, a cancer survivor who almost died from a preventable drug interaction, is committed to the idea that IT saves lives. “After Katrina,” he pointed out, “there were cancer patients starting new chemotherapy protocols because their old chemo protocols were destroyed. There were AIDS patients without their drug cocktails, and seniors unable to recover their medical histories.”
Disaster relief agencies such as the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourage individuals to keep easily retrievable copies of all emergency documents, not just medical records. Lorsch notes his electronic records can store and maintain photos of children, family members and pets, copies of birth certificates, passports, mortgages, driver’s licenses, insurance policies, wills, powers of attorney, bank statements, and other vital documents.
Standards Already Available
Noting the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in November awarded contracts totaling $18.6 million to Accenture Ltd., Computer Sciences Corporation, IBM, and Northrop Grumman to help develop universal industry standards for the secure exchange of health care information, Lorsch explains the MMR platform applies existing standards instead of new standards and can be implemented using fax and Internet.
“Universal standards are hard to create because technology is always changing. And sometimes, those big companies can’t sit down to lunch for less than 18 million dollars.”
In describing the MMR system, Lorsch used the example of a child who contracts food poisoning while on a family trip to a distant city. “In the emergency room, the mother is able to immediately call up the child’s entire medical history–vaccinations, drug allergies, last check up–for the doctor who has never seen the child before. In one minute, on any computer.
“The technology allows the patient to take control of his own records, regardless of where his doctor is, what his history is, what hospital he is in,” Lorsch explained.
Susan Konig ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.