For Health Records, Access Trumps Privacy

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 11-29-2007

Americans believe digital medical records can greatly reduce treatment errors, and their worries about privacy are waning, according to a new survey.

A significant majority of respondents to a just-released poll by The Wall Street Journal and Harris Interactive said electronic records will cut the chance for mistakes or redundancy in testing and treatment.

Privacy concerns exist, but they are declining. While just over half said digital records make it harder to ensure privacy, that number is down 10 percent from 2006. And a higher number said the benefits of digital records outweigh the risks.

Beyond electronic medical records, respondents believe other technological enhancements can improve health care. For example, three quarters or more said they'd like to schedule appointments via the Internet and correspond with their doctors via email at no extra charge.

Still, 56 percent say they don't have electronic records, and 17 percent aren't sure.

But the numbers show a growing shift in favor of electronic records. Digitalization has faced some backlash in recent years because of those very privacy concerns, as well as reluctance from the medical profession to shift their recordkeeping. The issue, however, is gaining more steam through the 2008 presidential race, where Democratic candidates in particular are seeking to make health care reform a top issue.

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