As technology has transformed medical records from paper folders to electronic files, it has also changed the processes by which medical professionals retrieve and analyze that data. Updates, changes and additions to important data can all be completed quickly and accurately. However, this kind of important and personal data can also be susceptible to unauthorized access from both inside and outside the health care system, so health care professionals must take extra precautions in protecting their patients' medical records.
The retrieval and analysis of medical records allows health care providers and facilities immediate access to vital patient and demographic information. The various data retrieval and analysis functions affect every aspect of the health care system, from patient intake and diagnosis to treatment regimens and billing procedures. Other entities outside the health care facility, from insurance adjusters to pharmacists, often also require the ability to retrieve patient data and analyze it for their own purposes.
In previous years, if a patient relocated, the patient's primary care physician in the new location would have to request copies of that patient's medical records from his or her doctor in the previous location. This transfer of information often required making paper copies, sending them to the new location either through the U.S. Postal Service or a private shipping company, and waiting for those records to arrive at the new office. Today's electronic data retrieval methods give the patient's new doctor instant access to information.
The biggest advantage of using data retrieval and analysis techniques is that it allows users across different parts of the system to use the same data and apply their own methods. For example, pharmacists can check the patient's records to find any medications that the patient is currently taking, any conflicts between current and new prescriptions, and any allergies that would prevent the patient from taking a specific medication. Insurance providers can verify a doctor's authorization of a procedure and process the payment from that patient's policy.
Security is a major concern with health care data. Health care professionals and their affiliates must not allow unauthorized access to sensitive patient information. The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, also known as HIPAA, contains a clause designed to protect patient privacy. The Privacy Rule requires that health care professionals take prudent steps to protect the confidentiality of communications with individual patients. Patients can also request that health care professionals correct any inaccurate personal health information in their records.