Blue Cross plans Web access to records

By Jeffrey Krasner
http://www.boston.com

Come this fall, members of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts will be able to go online to look up their healthcare claims and some medical records, which the insurer says will help patients manage their medical care and have more productive discussions with doctors.

The feature is being offered through Google Health, the new healthcare Web portal recently opened by the Internet search giant based in Mountain View, Calif. Blue Cross-Blue Shield said it is the first health insurer to sign on to the service.

“We believe Google Health will be an important tool used by our members to improve the safety and effectiveness of their healthcare,” said Cleve Killingsworth, chairman and chief executive of the insurer, in a statement.

Steven Fox, a Blue Cross-Blue Shield vice president heading the online project, said the Web tool will make it easier for members to access information about their claims.

“It will make the quality of your experience with the physician a little better,” Fox said. “It will be portable. It could improve compliance with treatment protocols. Now, when you get blood work, you’ll have the ability to see the actual report.”

The healthcare community is abuzz about healthcare information technology this year as insurers, doctors, and hospitals look at finding more ways to eliminate medical errors and control the cost of providing healthcare.

For instance, at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, doctors can look up most treatment records for a patient online regardless of which of the practice’s offices provided treatment. Such electronic records eliminate the need for much of the paperwork healthcare generates.

Blue Cross-Blue Shield has been at the forefront of healthcare information technology. It donated $50 million to the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative, a pilot project that outfitted physicians in three Massachusetts communities with equipment to start using electronic medical records.

But the adoption of electronic records across the full spectrum of healthcare providers remains a distant and elusive goal. Many doctors don’t want to invest the money necessary to upgrade computer hardware and software to move records online.

Blue Cross-Blue Shield’s affiliation with Google Health is a small but significant step in that direction. Patients will have access to the insurers’ records, which detail treatments they have received. Blue Cross-Blue Shield records will come from primary care doctors, specialists, laboratories, and pharmacies. But to get a full picture of their healthcare history, patients will also need medical records kept by doctors. That level of access depends on their doctors’ technological capabilities.

Some patient and privacy advocates have warned that electronic medical records are potentially vulnerable to attack by computer hackers. Blue Cross-Blue Shield said information stored on Google Health will be secure, and will not be sold or shared without consent. Participation in the program is voluntary, and members will be able delete their online health profiles at any time.

Google Health debuted last month, with partners such as hospitals, including Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and pharmacies such as CVS/CareMark.

Fox said no money changes hands between Google and Blue Cross-Blue Shield as a result of the affiliation. He said Google wants to attract as many users as possible to its site, while Blue Cross-Blue Shield seeks to offer members an online tool.

Jeffrey Krasner can be reached at krasner@globe.com.

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

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