Modern information technology offers healthcare providers and their patients’ unprecedented access to medical information, both in general and specific to the patient. Patient information can be sent digitally over the Internet now between facilities, and records can be kept on servers instead of in a room full of filing cabinets. Such a wealth of knowledge availability and convenience comes at a price though, and in many cases, it is the patient who pays though misinformation or a breach of the security of his or her personal information.
Technology’s dangerous side in healthcare comes for patients in many forms. Just as paper documents can be mishandled or information mistakenly added onto them, so too can digital records. With patients, such clerical errors could result in a misdiagnosis or the wrong treatment being given. Finding the source of such an error is difficult, and sometimes nearly impossible, to track.
The virtual method of storing patient data also poses a problem. Highly sensitive information about the patient’s health and personal information is kept in digital medical records, but if the patient does not take care to guard her password, the information in her medical records could be accessed by a non-approved third party. The data obtained from stolen digital medical records could be used by identity thieves to open credit cards or bank accounts in the patient’s name and without her knowledge.
Medical websites on the Internet have been a boon to increasing the general public’s knowledge about certain medical conditions. Websites allow people who have been diagnosed by their doctors, with specific ailments, to learn more about the disease and to communicate with others who have also been diagnosed. This community-minded approach helps patients to feel that they are not alone in their medical problems, but not all the information found on the Internet can be a boon to a patient’s feeling of comfort.
Reputable websites with correct medical information may be misunderstood by a person, resulting in confusion and fear. Rather than going to a doctor, patients may use this information to make a self-diagnosis and choose their own means of treatment. In some cases, their self-imposed treatment regime could be the wrong answer for their condition. The information found on medical websites is only to be used as a starting place, but the patient must always consult with his personal physician to get an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment.
When it comes to information technology, sometimes less is more. Innovative technologies may be too cutting edge just yet to provide the security needed for the information in the healthcare field. While healthcare facilities reap the benefits of easier accessibility and storage of digital information, the patients may be the ones to pay the price should that information be compromised by a hacker or from clerical errors. As with most things in the healthcare profession, information technology is proving to be a double-edged sword that is both helpful and potentially harmful. To get the greatest use from information technology, much like a sword it must be carefully wielded.