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Medical records at your fingertips

Records filed away

KAI RYSSDAL: You're at the doctor's office. Filling out some form or another. You come to the question about your last tetanus shot. When was it? And you either leave the question blank or you fudge it. Because, seriously, who remembers that kind of thing?

Today five of this country's biggest companies announced a plan to get rid of the guesswork. They're going to give employees access to their health records electronically. It should reduce medical errors and avoid unneceesary care. Oh, and it'll save the companies money, too.

Marketplace's Dan Grech has more.


DAN GRECH: Right now patient information is hopelessly scattered among insurers, doctors and hospitals.
ERIC BROWN: Pulling together all of the pieces of my and each of our individual medical records into one view, that is the holy grail.

That's Eric Brown, a health care expert at Forrester Research. He says this initiative would streamline care — saving time, money and possibly lives.

ERIC BROWN: Is this solution the right solution to that noble quest? That remains to be seen.

The Bush administration is pushing for a national health information network. But Wal-Mart, Intel, Applied Materials, BP America and Pitney Bowes got tired of waiting. They hired the nonprofit Omnidex Institute in Portland, Oregon, to manage employee records.

Starting in six months, about 2.5 million workers will be able to access their records when they travel, change jobs or see a new doctor. Dr. Deborah Peel founded the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation:

DEBORAH PEEL: The initiative announced today is really a prescription for disaster. The last people that consumers trust to have access to and snoop in their medical records are their employers.

The companies insist they won't be able to access the database.

PEEL: They might say that now. The problem is, there are no laws that would guarantee that the protections that these companies are claiming to offer would be kept in place.

She says companies would be tempted to use the data in decisions about hiring and benefits.

I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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