Dr Rob Lamberts, writing at The Medical Blog Network, has some disturbing news about physicians' access to their patients' EMR's (Electronic Medical Records). Apparently, a number of physicians (and, presumably, other providers) electronically offload their patients' medical info to vendors, who then host the files for them.
The benefits of this technique are, presumably, cost- and security-related, which makes it an attractive option for non-geek doc's. If you're not buying, maintaining, and servicing computer hardware, you've got extra money and personnel available for, well, doctoring.
The problem about which the good doctor reports is that some doc's have fallen behind in paying their vendor's bills (or flat-out refuse to do so), and said vendor's are then withholding access to the records. The doc's call that "extortion;" the vendors, presumably, call it good business sense.
Physicians are quite unhappy with this arrangement, but there is precious little they can do about it: it's all perfectly legal. And why not? If I don't pay my insurance premium, I can hardly complain when my claim goes unpaid. Still, this tends to harm the patient as much as (or perhaps more than) the doc; after all, whose health is put at risk?
I suspect that Dr Lambert will be following this story for a while, so we'll keep you posted.