Electronic Health Records – Risks and Rewards

by Allegra Hamilton | May 22, 2023 |
Electronic Health Records – Risks and Rewards

Electronic health records (EHRs) have revolutionized the way medical information is stored, accessed and shared, enabling healthcare providers instant access to patient information. EHRs enhance patient safety by reducing the likelihood of medication errors and improving communication among healthcare teams. This streamlined access to information can significantly improve collaborative care and even reduces healthcare costs.

Several studies have demonstrated the positive impact of EHRs on healthcare outcomes. For instance, a 2020 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that EHR use was associated with improved diabetes care and better adherence to clinical guidelines.

Are there security risks associated with EHRs?

While electronic health records offer significant advantages in healthcare, they also raise concerns about patient privacy and data security. Safeguarding sensitive medical information is crucial to maintaining patient trust and compliance with privacy regulations and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in particular.

Breaches in electronic systems can expose personal health information, leading to potential identity theft and fraud. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, data breaches in healthcare settings have increased in recent years, highlighting the importance of more robust security measures. The increasing use of cloud-based storage, mobile devices and telehealth services introduces additional considerations for safeguarding patient data. Healthcare organizations are busy adapting their security protocols to address these evolving threats and stay ahead of cybercriminals.

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But criminals are not the only source of infringements. The practice of selling EHR data, as explored in a Verge interview with Eric Perakslis of the Duke Clinical Research Institute, has sparked ethical and legal debates surrounding the use and control of patient information. While the selling of health data can potentially generate revenue for healthcare providers, it also raises questions about the consent and transparency surrounding such practices. Patients may not be aware that their personal health information is being sold to third parties, undermining their right to privacy and control over their data. Additionally, the commercialization of EHR information poses risks of unauthorized access, which can have severe consequences for patients’ confidentiality. Striking a balance between the benefits of data utilization for research and innovation and protecting patient privacy is crucial for ensuring responsible and ethical practices surrounding the use and sale of EHR information.

In addition, data quality and interoperability issues can hinder the seamless integration and analysis of diverse datasets from different healthcare systems. Variations in data formats, coding and documentation practices can make it difficult to aggregate and synchronize data effectively.

Legal and ethical considerations also play a crucial role in the use of health data for research. Patient privacy and informed consent are paramount when utilizing identifiable health information for research purposes.

Though once hailed as a potential solution, integration of AI and health data analytics poses similar risks. As with all AI, use should be accompanied by appropriate regulations and guidelines. Healthcare organizations and policymakers will need to establish frameworks that govern the collection, storage and use of health data, while prioritizing patient privacy and informed consent.

What are the benefits of EHRs?

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Risk aside, health information exchanges (HIEs) play a crucial role in promoting data sharing among different healthcare organizations. HIEs enable the secure and interoperable exchange of patient information, including medical records, lab results and imaging reports, across different healthcare systems.

The abundance of healthcare data available through EHR systems can lead to new insights, improved patient outcomes and advancements in medical research. EHR information allows researchers to conduct data-driven studies and gain valuable insights into disease patterns, treatment outcomes and population health trends. By analyzing accumulated and “de-identified” data from diverse patient populations, researchers can identify associations, patterns and risk factors that may not have been evident through traditional research methods, leading to the development of evidence-based guidelines, more personalized treatment approaches and targeted interventions.

What safeguards are in place to secure EHR data?

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Interoperability standards, such as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), are also proving critical for ensuring seamless data exchange and integration. FHIR provides a standardized framework for data representation, making it easier to share and use health data across different platforms and systems. The adoption of interoperability standards promotes “data liquidity”, enabling healthcare providers and researchers to access and leverage comprehensive patient information.

Public/private partnerships and data collaboratives are also driving data sharing efforts. These initiatives bring together healthcare organizations, academic institutions, technology companies, and government agencies to pool resources, expertise and data. By fostering collaboration, these partnerships accelerate research, encourage innovation and leverage collective intelligence to address complex healthcare challenges.


Despite the inherent risks of sharing healthcare information through EHRs, the future of medical records and health data is poised for exciting developments. Driven by advancements in technology and evolving healthcare needs the evolving development of security measures and privacy safeguards promise to leverage the potential of EHRs for the benefit of everyone.


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