The health care industry is computerizing patient records as fast as it can, but it is encountering a problem--patient privacy.
Computer systems are making volumes of often sensitive medical records available more quickly and easily than before. That's a benefit to patients when the information ends up in the right hands--among doctors and at hospitals where it can be used it to make medical decisions.
But the trend toward information sharing is encountering resistance as patients fear their medical histories could be available to anyone with a computer mouse and a password.
Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.) has introduced a bill that would set national standards for electronic patient records, regulate their disclosure and enforce penalties for violations.
"There's a whole new thrust to replace the manual chart with the electronic chart," said Sheldon Dorenfest, a Chicago consultant who keeps close tabs on the burgeoning health care information management business.
Health care information management firms took in a total of $8.5 billion in 1994, up from $7.5 billion the previous year. That figure is expected to rise to $13 billion in 1997, Dorenfest estimated.
There are 237 U.S. companies selling software for managing health care data, up from 148 in 1980, Dorenfest said.