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June 13, 2007

Privacy groups are sounding alarms as the nation's largest insurance companies finalize plans to allow millions more customers to post their health records on the Internet.

Insurers like Aetna Inc. say Web-based tools help patients and physicians keep track of medical information while potentially holding down spiraling medical costs.

About 100 million insurance customers in the U.S. have access to Web-based tools, but companies don't have an estimate of how widely they are used. Insurers hope to at least double the technology's reach by the end of next year.

Aetna chief executive Ronald Williams says the change is as revolutionary to health care as the introduction of the ATM card was to banking in the 1980s.

But privacy advocates say there's no guarantee the records will be safe from hackers. Some worry patients may refuse to disclose some illnesses to their doctors to keep documents out of databases.

"As a former nurse, I know that back in the 1980s, patients who were alcoholics did not want to have paper records," said Sue Blevins, president of the Institute for Health Freedom "They just didn't want people to know & That could affect the quality of their care."

Aetna, which offers personal health records to its customers, says security procedures include a member login and an online registration Web site with secure sign-ons. In addition, customers can restrict elements of their records from being shared among health practitioners.

Aetna said personal health records are protected by the same security technology that is used for online banking.

Personal health records, which are available through insurers Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield and others, are intended to help doctors and patients track medications and treatments.

The technology allows doctors to record test results, immunizations, prescriptions and other medical information into an online database that can be accessed by patients, the insurer and other physicians if needed. Patients can also add details about over-the-counter medications, plans of care, family health histories and other information.

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Posted by healthinsurance at June 13, 2007 11:09 AM