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Public in favour of electronic records, but want protection

OTTAWA – Most Canadians are in favour of computerizing all medical records, provided there are safeguards for making the documents secure, says an advisor to Health Canada.

“Electronic health records hold a lot of promise in the minds of Canadians,” Mary Lysyk told an electronic health information and privacy conference earlier this month. The meeting included government representatives and experts from the private sector.

Lysyk has been analyzing five years’ worth of data about Canadian public opinion on the use of electronic patient records and their deployment in doctors’ offices and hospitals.

She said more than 65 percent of Canadians support the idea of having their medical records made electronic. But a majority want privacy laws strengthened, so the files cannot be accessed by unauthorized persons.

Lysyk said more than 65 percent of Canadians believe their privacy in general is eroding and 54 percent are concerned their medical records may be accessed by hackers or other people with malicious intentions. “We still have public trust,” said Lysyk. “But, trust is not a renewable resource – once it is lost it may not be regained.”

Conference participants discussed ways to create a network of health providers who all have access to a patient’s electronic health record. One possible approach being tested in the United States is implantable microchips. The chips can be injected into a person’s upper shoulder and used as identification to give doctors and hospitals instant access to a patient’s records.

In the U.S., 1,100 physicians in more than 250 hospitals have access to scanners that can pull up a patient’s medical history. As of March, however, only about 100 people had opted to have the chips implanted.