Electronic records prompt research


By Alex Ludwig

The advent of technology into our health system has changed the way the health system operates. The use of electronic health records, especially, has made it much easier for doctors to record, store and, if necessary, transmit medical information amongst each other about their patients.

But with that information becoming more accessible and transmittable, it raises some concerns: Is your confidential health information still confidential?

This is an important question to ask, especially for Assistant Professor of Sociology Timothy Stablein, who is currently conducting research on this topic.

The National Instistute of Health funds Professor Stablein’s research.

Stablein is specifically looking to answer three questions.

First, does the introduction of electronic health records affect the way adolescents perceive the privacy of health information?

Second, have doctors and other health-care practitioners changed what information they record in order to maintain confidentiality?

Lastly, do concerns about privacy and electronic health records affect the way that doctors and patients communicate with one another?

The study began during Professor Stablein’s time working at Dartmouth University, and he brought his research topic with him when he came to Union.

Stablein noted that previously conducted research identified that patients, particularly adolescents, had a variety of concerns when it came to the privacy of their health care.

Patient privacy concerns, coupled with the fact that researchers have begun to identify that privacy expectations are changing in health care with the introduction of widespread health information technology, have led Professor Stablein and those working with him to devise this specific study.

So far, the research team has conducted qualitative interviews of doctors and patients to try to gain an understanding of the public’s understanding of electronic health records and how they feel about them.

The team has also talked to coders of these health records to find out exactly what it means that our health information is all now online.

The research, which started in October of 2013 and will end in September of 2015, is about halfway done, and there are still a lot of questions that have yet to be answered.

However, current findings show that health information is still kept private by the practitioner.  So far, the team has noticed that there may be a change in the way that doctors record their information now to maintain confidentiality, and that they may take more care to avoid compromising information.

However, with the study not yet completed, this can’t be said for certain.

While the research team has already conducted interviews of various doctors and other workers in the health-care industry and they have been able to begin to paint the picture of how practitioners themselves feel about the situation, there is still a whole other side of the story to gather information about.

The research team is looking for Union students who would be willing to be interviewed about their experiences with electronic healthcare records in their adolescence and how electronic records may or may not have affected the way they disclosed information to their practitioners.

The team wants to study these experiences, as well as any thoughts students may have on the implications of electronic health-care records.

Flyers have been put up around campus asking for volunteers for this study, and the posters say that all those who participate will receive a $20 Amazon gift card.

There are also opportunities for people who would like to get involved in the research itself through either the Scholars Program or through summer research.

The study takes on aspects of health care, sociology and computer science, so there are multiple areas where students could contribute research.

Contact Professor Stablein if you are interested in the study.


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