The federal health care overhaul is designed to encourage patients to be more involved in managing their own health.
Hospitals and clinics are replacing paper files with sophisticated electronic health records. And although some systems can't share information with each other, which could be a serious problem in an emergency, smartphones are starting to bridge that electronic gap.
That capability is already available to Medicare patients and veterans. The Medicare Blue Button and a similar Veterans Affairs medical program allow patients to download three years of their medical history into a simple text file on their smartphones or personal computers. Apps are available for Apple and Android phones that make it easy.
Sharing that data with a health care provider can then be as simple as handing over your smartphone, Minnesota Public Radio reported Wednesday (http://bit.ly/ZVYhME ).
It's not just Medicare patients and veterans who can get access to their computerized medical records. About half of Minnesota's primary care clinics also let their patients access their records online, and that number is growing rapidly.
Farzad Mostashari, coordinator for health information technology at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, experienced firsthand how useful smartphone technology can be when illness suddenly strikes, as it did when his 76-year-old father visited him last Thanksgiving weekend.
"My dad comes downstairs and he has acute pain in his eye where he had cataract surgery. And I said, 'What's the matter, what's the story?'" recalled Mostashari, who lives in Bethesda, Md. "And he said, 'Well, I think they put the wrong lens in my eye, I'd gone back to the doctor and ... .'"
Mostashari's father didn't remember exactly what had happened at his last doctor's visit, but the information was in his medical file. The problem was his father lives in Boston and his doctor's office was closed for the weekend.
But that wasn't a problem for Mostashari. He put his expertise to work by signing up his dad for the Medicare Blue Button. He was then able to download a file that included names, phone numbers and addresses of physicians as well as diagnoses, lab tests, imaging studies, and medications.
He then took his father to a local doctor, and his dad was able to hand over his iPhone and say, "here's my history."
The federal health care overhaul is designed to encourage patients to be more involved in managing their own health. Smartphones and health-related applications can be powerful tools for that, said Jennifer Lundblad, CEO of Stratis Health, a nonprofit in Bloomington that aims to improve health care by translating research into practice.
But there are also privacy and data security risks, including the possibility that patients may lose smartphones containing their medical information or that a company storing health data could go out of business.
Deven McGraw, director of the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, said doctors and health plans must abide by federal privacy and security rules. But those rules don't extend to smartphones. She said consumers need to check how apps will use their personal data and find out if their device allows them to remotely delete their data if it's stolen.
"Be aware before you share because that's your best defense," McGraw said.
Medicare Blue Button information: http://www.medicare.gov/manage-your-health/blue-button/medicare-blue-button.html
VA Blue Button information: http://www.va.gov/bluebutton