August 1, 2008

Patients Can Now Carry Medical Histories With Them

By Jeanetta Bradley

The one-gigabyte USB, or universal serial bus, which is free to patients, stores information in a file readable on all computers. The data will include chronic problems, medications, allergies and hospitalizations. Doctors' case notes will not be downloaded onto the USB, however.

"In some cases, the notes from every visit would exceed the space available," Barnes said. "But patients have the right to their records and can request a copy of those files separately."

The program, which started July 15, has about 25 people a day requesting their records on a USB. Barber expects the requests will rise to 100 per day.

Currently, the USBs are available only to adult patients.

To ensure privacy, a password is encrypted onto the USB so that individuals control access to their information and do not have to worry if the USB is lost or stolen. This is a vital aspect because medical organizations must abide by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act standards for protecting the privacy of patients' records, Barber said.

Besides, "a lot of patients are uncomfortable with the thought other people viewing their medical history," Barber said.

Acquiring a USB is simple. Oakland patients can visit the medical records office to sign a consent releasing the information and register a password. Afterward, their medical information will be downloaded to the USB in a few minutes.

"I have so many patients tell me they wish they could just take their information with them when they travel somewhere or have it if they end up at the emergency room in a different hospital," Barber said. "Now they can."