Thinking it over, my last post didn't really do justice to those USB flash drives specially designed to let you carry your medical records with you. (In Germany they call them "Sticks," while a cell phone is called a "Handy" ... pragmatic language)
Considering that we PWDs are constantly told to carry our full medical records along with us when we travel, the idea of putting it all on a tiny little stick is actually pretty interesting.
And my fears of privacy breach may be somewhat unfounded, according to a number of manufacturers, who claim the drives contain no big secrets, i.e. "there's more vital information contained in your wallet." The argument goes that YOU decide what information to include or omit, and passwords or other deterrents may just slow down access to your data in case of an emergency. Not sure I'm sold on that concept. So you too may be relieved to learn that at least one of the leading products offers built-in safeguards so that not just anybody can download your "whole enchilada."
In case you're not familiar, a few leading brands appear to be:
* E-HealthKey from Medic Alert - Developed by SanDisk and sold by the nonprofit organization that developed the MedicAlert bracelet 50 years ago. You just pop the (waterproof) drive into any computer and a screen flashes with your medical condition to alert emergency room personnel. But beyond that initial screen, any medical information you enter on this drive is encrypted. It runs $49.95, plus $35 enrollment fee, if you're not already a MedicAlert member. For an additional $20-a-year, MedicAlert will upload your data to its server so you have a backup.
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The user-friendly software can apparently also plot your weight, cholesterol or anything you regularly record onto a graph, so it's marketed as a "wellness tool" as well as a storage device.
* MedicTag - which claims to be "the original USB emergency information record" from a family-owned company in upstate New York. They cite the following advantages over MedicAlert's offering: MedicTag is cheaper (retails for $39.95 with no additional fees or membership dues), and it runs on Microsoft Word rather than requiring installation of proprietary software that may well slow down access to your vital information by emergency personnel. However, it was unclear if encryption or other security measures are built in to this one.
* Med-InfoChip - developed by Dr. Carl Franzblau, chairman and professor of biochemistry at the Boston University School of Medicine, and distributed through a Florida-based company. This one boasts "plug and play software that displays your medical profile." It runs $69.95 for a 64 MB single profile. They state that Dr. Franzblau deliberately decided not to password-protect access to viewing of records on the system.
* Portable Health Profile is a whole kit, including family health records software for your PC, two mini wallet-sized CDs, and the USB drive. This one's from a company called Critical Access, Inc., apparently founded by a physician aiming to speed up information transfer. The package is currently on sale for $49.50, and you get a lot: the software can hold full profiles for up to 5 family members, including fingerprints and other medical images, insurance and immunization records, a Living Will, expense reports, and more. But again, no encryption or security measures, which bothers me with all this personal data they're supposing you'll store.
Whether or not you go for the USB drive, there are certainly some useful advantages to keeping your medical records on-line:
- Updating, sorting and searching your medical records is easier.
- Provides a single secure location where you can safely store all of your medical records without worrying about theft, fire or accidental loss.
- Disaster Preparedness, especially if you carry the USB drive on your person.
The only real disadvantage is the personal privacy issue, not to be taken lightly (See "Are Your Medical Records Everyone's Business?") Surely you've noticed how every doctor you visit makes you sign those privacy consent forms nowadays?
There's plenty of "anxiety of individuals who believe that their privacy rights with respect to personal health information, including their genetic information, are being eroded." If that's how you feel about it, then putting your medical history on a stick is certainly not for you.