Most U.S. hospitals, doctors' offices, and medical centers store health information
electronically, thanks to the adoption of health information technology (HIT). An
electronic health record (EHR), or electronic medical record
(EMR), is a digital collection of a patient's health details.
Information stored within an EHR can include a patient's:
(including immunization status, test results, and growth and development
health insurance and billing information
other health-related data
Because it's stored digitally, health care providers within a facility can share
the information, or send it quickly to another facility if a patient sees another
How Is Information Accessed?
Most hospitals have a unique EHR database that's accessible from every computer.
To open a patient's health record, a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider
logs into the system with a username and password or thumbprint identification.
Often, providers can access EHR information remotely by logging into their work
network via the Internet.
What Are the Benefits?
Safely store data. Digital data storage helps preserve health
information. Every change made within an EHR is tracked, as is the ID of the person
who made it and when. Pages can't be removed from the record. A paper record could
get lost, misfiled, or damaged.
Prevent medical errors. Some systems help doctors prescribe drugs
by doing the correct calculations for drug dosages. They also check for and alert
doctors about potentially harmful drug interactions, allergies, or possible allergic
reactions. And patients can avoid getting extra X-rays or lab tests because each test
result is recorded, stored, and easily checked.
Save time. More than one person can work on the record at the
same time. So a doctor can review test results while a nurse enters vital signs and
the billing office submits paperwork to an insurance provider. Prescriptions can be
"e-prescribed" through the EHR and sent right to a pharmacy, saving a patient
Save space. Thanks to EHRs, huge file rooms may soon be part
of the past. This space can be used as care-related areas — perhaps a few extra patient
rooms or another imaging center.
Empower patients. Parents can be active parts of their child's
care (or their own) when they have improved access to their medical files. They can
view test results, see a provider's instructions for home care, and even check for
Is Patient Privacy Protected?
Yes. A federal law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
(HIPAA) identifies who's allowed access to medical records. Specifically, HIPAA protects:
any information that your doctors, nurses, or other health care providers put
in the medical record
conversations between doctors and others about your family's care or treatment
So don't worry if, for example, your nosy neighbor works in the same hospital where
your child gets treatment. HIPAA bars anyone from snooping into patient records. In
fact, if someone tries to view classified information, it might trip an alarm in the
computer system and start a trace on who tried to look at that information.
In many EHR systems, hospital employees have access only to parts of the EHR. The
rest of the record is secure and private. If a user's session is inactive for a few
minutes, the system may automatically log off to prevent others from viewing the information.
Part of HIPAA called the Security Rule protects the
storage and transfer of EHRs. Any provider who sends health information that
way must, for example, use safeguards that make sure it is accessed only by those
allowed to see it.
Can I Access My Child's Files?
Yes. As with paper charts, you have the right to view your child's medical information.
Many health care facilities provide ways for patients and their families to access
the system via a patient portal.
Ask if your health care provider offers this service. You'll probably need to register
and create a username and password. You can view things like your child's medical
history, family history, allergies, and prescriptions. But physician notes, test results
that haven't been reviewed, and most psychiatric evaluations are hidden. If your child
is a teenager, more areas may be hidden to protect your teen's privacy.
If your health care facility doesn't offer access to EHRs, you can ask for a paper
or digital (CD or flash drive) copy of the file. Digital copies can be stored on software
known as a Personal Health Record (PHR), either on your own device or online. Some
online PHRs are free. Others have setup fees and monthly maintenance costs.
With these accounts, you're responsible for keeping the records up to date. This
may take some work, but it's a good way to make sure your child's medical information
is in one place. Patient-owned records can be a big help for parents whose kids have
chronic conditions or get care from different providers.