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What do I need to know about my Medicare electronic health records?

October 6, 2016

An Electronic Health Record (EHR) is a digital, electronic version of a patient’s medical history, used to help Medicare beneficiaries get the care they need efficiently.

Your Medicare electronic health record may include information such as:

  • Medical history, including information on your health conditions, allergies, symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments
  • Immunization records
  • Lab and screening test results
  • Prescription medication history
  • Claims information

Medicare electronic health records can improve quality of care by minimizing medical errors and delays in care. For example, suppose your heart doctor (cardiologist) ordered certain radiology screenings to help diagnose your condition. Radiology technicians can attach the test results to your electronic health record, and your doctor can see it right away, diagnose and make appropriate treatment plans with you so that you can be treated without delay.

Electronic health record technology can be especially helpful when multiple health-care practitioners and their professional staff are involved in your care, or when you move or change doctors. Electronic health records are usually much easier to transfer and maintain than paper records, which can mean that all of your health-care providers have access to the most up-to-date, complete information on your health status and treatments.

From the Medicare beneficiary’s perspective, an electronic health record is convenient and supports more efficient and cost-effective care. You don’t have to fax your health records or fill out the same forms every time you visit a new doctor. Being able to share certain medical information and test results reduces the chances that you receive repeated procedures or tests unnecessarily.  This can save you money and protect your health from unnecessary and potentially harmful side effects that may accompany overexposure to radiology, for example, or over-medication.

While Medicare provides incentives to health-care providers to adopt electronic health record technology that meets established standards of integrity and security, not all providers have adopted this technology. You may want to ask your health-care providers if they use electronic health records.

Electronic health record security

The government requires providers to keep your electronic health records secure and confidential. Medicare health plans and providers must protect your personal health information, including your medical record and billing information. Both the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Affordable Care Act of 2010 have provisions that regulate how your health information is handled by health providers and health plans.

As an individual, there are also steps you can take to keep your personal health information safe. These include:

  • Keeping password and login information private, sharing only with people you know and trust.
  • Encrypting any electronic files that you send by email or save to your computer.
  • Keeping printed copies in a secure place and destroying any sensitive documents you no longer need.

If you think someone may have accessed your electronic health record or Medicare account without your permission, contact Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048. Medicare representatives are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Electronic health record technology is evolving

There are different electronic health record systems; they can vary from one provider to another and from one health plan to another. Not all electronic health record systems can communicate with each other. But as time goes by and more health providers move to electronic health records, there is increasing standardization in the electronic formats of these valuable records and the ability to transfer information securely across different systems.

Accessing your Medicare electronic health record

Many Medicare beneficiaries can access their electronic health records on MyMedicare.gov. Medicare uses Blue Button, an online tool that lets you easily view and download personal health information. When you log into your MyMedicare.gov account, simply click on the Medicare Blue Button to save a downloadable PDF or .txt file of your health record to your computer or mobile device. If your plan doesn’t provide your records through Blue Button, ask your plan how you can access your medical records.

There are multiple tools and mobile applications available to help you better understand your personal health information and share it with your doctors and other health professionals. These tools are compatible with Blue Button technology and let you access your medical records from a mobile device. Click here for more information.

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