Should You Have A Unique ID Number For All Your Medical Records?

UMass Medical School Chancellor Dr. Michael F. Collins

Should you have a unique ID number for all your medical records? The Wall Street Journal asks that question today on its debate page, and University of Massachusetts Medical School chancellor Dr. Michael Collins answers with a resounding “Yes!”

The Journal offers this background:

Proponents say universal patient identifiers, or UPIs, deserve a serious look because they are the most efficient way to connect patients to their medical data. They say UPIs not only facilitate information sharing among doctors and guard against needless medical errors, but may also offer a safety advantage in that health records would never again need to be stored alongside financial data like Social Security numbers. UPIs, they say, would both improve care and lower costs.

Privacy activists aren’t buying it. They say that information from medical records already is routinely collected and sold for commercial gain without patient consent and that a health-care ID system would only encourage more of the same. The result, they say, will be more patients losing trust in the system and hiding things from their doctors, resulting in a deterioration in care. They agree that it’s crucial to move medical records into the digital age. But they say it can be done without resorting to universal health IDs.

The counter-argument to Dr. Collins comes from Dr. Deborah Peel, a psychiatrist and health-privacy expert in Austin, Texas. She proposes a system in which each of us as patients has full control of releasing our records. I must say, I lean toward Dr. Collins but I know my feelings are colored by living in Massachusetts, where I have little fear of being unable to get health insurance coverage.

And overall, my reaction to the debate reminds me of the old Jewish joke: A feuding couple comes before a rabbi for mediation. The husband makes his case and the rabbi says, “You’re right!” Then the wife makes her case and the rabbi allows, “You’re right!” But we can’t both be right, the husband and wife complain. The rabbi ponders and responds: “You know, you’re right!”

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