If you visit a doctor’s office or hospital and you usually see stacks of manila folders with labels on them and loads of paper inside. When a doctor wants to research more about a patient, it can take a while to sort through the file and decipher handwritten notes.  Electronic health records are fast becoming the new normal for record keeping in the health field.  But what does e-health mean and who has access to your information once it is uploaded?

Electronic health or e-health for short is the incorporation of computer software and the Internet into health services.  Many components of health such as recordkeeping, information exchange and even prescriptions are now in electronic form for better organization and storage.

The pros of e-health

There are several benefits to e-health programs.  One benefit is that providers will have a better way to coordinate care for patients.  Having electronic health files will reduce a lot of the missed opportunities for doctors to discuss a patient’s treatment.

It will also help alert doctors about potential medication errors. HealthIT.gov reports that 78 percent of the doctors who use electronic health records say it enhances overall patient care.

Another benefit of e-health is that eventually patients and doctors will have less paperwork to manage.  In the near future, doctor’s offices will have an easier, faster process for signing in patients.  Damon Davis, Director of Information Technology for Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, said having electronic forms make doctor visits simpler.

“We all have had that frustration of getting to a place where you were just a week ago and they ask the same questions: is your insurance the same? Has your address changed? There’s a significant opportunity to automate that process so you don’t have to stand there at a provider’s office and fill out a clipboard repeatedly. We are making that transition so that your process in the office can be much cleaner.”

Will your privacy be maintained?

Security is of the utmost importance when transitioning to electronic health records.  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) provides very strict guidelines about how personal health information can be shared. Part of the responsibility is on the provider and the other is on the consumer.

Peter Ashkenaz, Media Contact for the Communications for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology offers this to ease consumer fears.

“There’s a common misperception that there’s going to be some sort of government data bank of everyone’s health care records and that’s just not the case. You as the patient are downloading the information. So it’s your information now. You as the patient decide who needs to have it. The security of it is as secure as you make it.”

E-health will usher in a new wave of health care. It’s about an exchange of health information that will empower the consumer to receive the best quality of healthcare available. For more information about Health IT and e-health programs, visit http://www.healthit.gov.

E-health and the Blue Button

The Department of Veteran Affairs led the way into e-health by using electronic health records as a means to give Veterans more access to their health data.  Many doctors and hospitals are incorporating electronic forms of communication to improve efficiency and reduce medical errors.  Medicare, Indian Health Services, and NASA have also adopted their own form of e-health programs as well.

Electronic health programs are not just for doctors and hospitals to use.  They are also available to help patients see and share their own health records.  The Blue Button program was designed for patients to have access to and download their medical records or claims. Blue Button is available now to veterans, uniformed service members and Medicare beneficiaries but more private sector insurance companies are also beginning to offer their members a way to download their medical information.

Davis said in an interview that the Blue Button program caught on rapidly and has influenced individuals to become more active in their health.

“Blue Button has gone on to be adopted by many different electronic health record vendors, labs, et cetera,” he says. “It liberates health data so individuals can become better partners of their own health care with better access to their own health care info.”

Candace Y.A. Montague is a health advocate and freelance writer in Washington, D.C.  She is the DC HIV/AIDS Examiner for Examiner.com.  Candace is also a contributor to The Body.com, The Black AIDS Weekly, and East of the River Magazine, a publication of Capital Community News.  Writing is her activism.