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Vanguard Health is the latest company that’s signed up with the Dossia Consortium to offer its employees electronic health records as a work benefit.

But when will it become mainstream for any and all patients to access their health records electronically, rather than it being a rare job perk for some?

The HITECH federal stimulus legislation signed into law in February not only offers healthcare providers financial rewards starting in 2011 for their meaningful use of e-medical record and other health IT systems. The law also gives patients the right to access to their personal health information electronically, too.

That might seem like a givenof course it makes sense for patients to have access to their medical dataafter all, it’s information about their health, right? But with all the challenges involved with hospitals and doctors making the transition from paper to electronic records, and them figuring out how to share patient data (and many aren’t anxious to do that for competitive and other reasons,) you have to wonder how much effort they’ll spendat least initiallyin their IT project plans to provide patients with access to their digitized data.

How much of this information should they show patients? Could the data be misunderstood or taken out of context by patients? What about security and privacy worries? Those are just a few of the many concerns some healthcare providers have about giving patients an electronic window into their health data.

While healthcare providers figure that all out, some employerslike Dossia member companieshave already decided to get a jump on providing patients access to at least some of their health data in the hopes that it will help employees better manage chronic and other medical problems they and their dependents face. So far, much of the data for Dossia e-health records comes from the payers, health plans, pharmacies that provide various services to Dossia employees via their health benefit packages. The data for the most part isn’t coming directly from the actual doctors and hospitals caring for these patients.

Since so many Americans get their health coverage from their jobs, it’s not all that surprising that many patients who also have electronic access to their health data are able to do so because their employers are providing e-health records as a work perk.

But the goal is that eventually for more patients to see their health data because their doctors and hospitals are providing secure access to that information, too.

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