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Put your medical reports online

Doctors launch a private medical registry for patient information in emergencies.

December 4, 1998
Web posted at: 4:30 PM EST

by Tom Spring

(IDG) -- Could a Web site save your life?

Two New York doctors think so. They have launched an online medical registry for medical information they say will save lives. But skeptics are concerned that abuse and misuse of the service could hurt someone instead.

The Medical Registry lets you create a personal medical dossier on the Web, for doctors to access in an emergency or just for a routine trip to a doctor's office.

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Its creators hope that the voluntary online service will give you "security, convenience, and peace of mind" and promote quality medical care.

"A lot of valuable time is wasted asking how old you are, are you allergic to any medications, or are you diabetic," said Dr. Murray Friedman, chief executive officer of Integrated Medical Technologies, which created the service. The time saved could save your life in an emergency, he says.

Doctors can now skip the questions and refer directly to a Web site hosting your complete medical history -- including digitized EKG, MRI and X-ray images.

Online setup costs are free -- for now. The Registry charges $100 annually to retain your medical information online. And you can update your files as many times as you want, free of charge.

Life-or-death data

Ten years ago Friedman, on shift at a Brooklyn, N.Y. emergency room, watched a heart attack patient die. In a last-ditch attempt to revive the dying man, doctors injected the patient with Lidocaine. The patient had an allergic reaction and died.

"They had no idea he was allergic," Friedman recalls. "If we only knew, we might have been able to save him."

Today, Friedman and his partner Dr. David Steiner hope that mistake is never repeated.

Once you sign up for the service, you get a medical alert bracelet and a wallet card that directs a doctor to a Web site or a fax-back service where medical personnel can access and download your records. Files are encrypted and stored on a secure server that can only be accessed by a licensed doctor with your password.

Doctors enter your password (found on the card or bracelet) and submit their unique "Drug Enforcement Act" number. They can access emergency information only.

Integrated Medical Technology is a one-month-old business that sells prescription drugs and medical supplies through its online store. It also offers patient referral services and an "Interactive Ask-A-Physician Service."

Privacy concerns

The Registry is the latest attempt by doctors to create a database that streamlines patient care. Federal government proposals for a national health information system were quashed out of privacy fears earlier this year.

Unlike government proposals, which were resisted by privacy rights groups, the Medical Registry is voluntary, points out Steiner.

But that hasn't prevented the Registry from raising security, privacy, and safety concerns.

Some critics believe any database of medical secrets could be cracked by hackers or abused by the greedy. Doctors fear that patients might omit potentially embarrassing but medically important details in fear their secrets will be revealed, said John Stanley, director of the Ethics in Medicine, Science and Society at Lawrence University, in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Something as simple as an incorrect blood type could be fatal if a user submitted the wrong information, he said.

However, Stanley praised the program for being ahead of its time. "Technology can actually build a better physician-patient relationship."

Colorado cardiologist Dr. Salim Aziz said the concept was "interesting and valuable."

"This is a step in the right direction," Aziz said. "I very much support this use of technology, provided there are adequate safeguards to protect privacy," Aziz said.

Friedman and Steiner both said the Registry adheres to a strict privacy policy. "Medical information is only accessible by a user and their doctor," said Steiner. "That's it."

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