Public EMR fears overblown

The industry is not dealing with a reluctant patient class. It's dealing instead with a reluctant professional class. Addressing their concerns -- on liability, on training, on usability -- needs to be the top priority.

People are not stupid.

A lot of the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) regarding Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) and Personal Health Records (PHRs) seems driven by an assumption that people don't understand the trade-offs involved in creating and accessing online records.

Those fears are overblown, according to a study to be published in next month's Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston conducted focus groups in four U.S. cities and found that as people get older and their health declines concerns about privacy become secondary to benefits like having records available in an emergency and making certain new doctors can access them.

"The patient's view is critical," said study co-author Tom Delbanco. "People are ready for change," added an executive with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which underwrote the focus groups.

Whether or not you buy into the conclusions, given that the hospital involved is a leader in automation and the foundation supporting the study is an EMR advocate, the gross results make a basic kind of sense.

I no longer care if people know I have incipient heart disease. I blog about it all the time. But my kids, who are far more tech-savvy than I will ever be, have a deeper sense of personal privacy.

The fact is today's PHRs are of greatest use to those with existing health concerns. Even though my generation knows less about what technology can do than the younger generation, we seem more accepting of the need.

As my kids move on, however, I fully expect the wellness benefits of PHRs to increase, as workout records and dietary advice become integrated, and usability increases.

The industry is not dealing with a reluctant patient class. It's dealing instead with a reluctant professional class. Addressing their concerns -- on liability, on training, on usability -- needs to be the top priority.