PDF’s Role in the Healthcare Electronic Records Revolution

Healthcare has been a leading industry for technology for decades, however, when it comes to distributing healthcare-related information outside of the confines of the hospital or doctor’s office, the industry has fallen significantly behind other technology leading industries, such as banking and financial.

One example of this difference is the ease with which a consumer can open a credit account with a major financial institution. The process takes a few minutes, all information is transferred to the necessary parties, and all financial institutions, including credit bureaus, can access it easily.

Not so with heath records. Healthcare has a long way to go before it reaches this level of ease and efficiency, however, the healthcare industry is beginning to create its own information-distribution processes and the Portable Document Format (PDF) features prominently in its evolution.

The DOSSIA system gives patients access to their digital medical records, with PDF ease
A new system called DOSSIA, which relies heavily on PDF software and PDF security, is under development. The DOSSIA system will allow users to access their own personal medical information quickly and easily. It will also make it much simpler for an individual to share his or her medical information with doctors and relevant healthcare organizations.

Despite the development of DOSSIA, there are still several difficulties that must be overcome, including privacy restrictions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), reluctance of many healthcare companies to share their information due to concerns about privacy, security, infrastructure limitations, liability, and the lack of medical record standards in the US.

Fortunately, PDF software and PDF security are making the PDF format a promising tool to solve these problems. Because of its adoption and acceptance, PDF is an ideal format for capturing healthcare information that can contain any combination of text, graphics and images. What’s more, a guide for the use of PDF in healthcare already exists.

PDF/H already offers guidelines for continued use of PDF in healthcare
Published in 2008, the PDF/H, a.k.a. PDF Healthcare, is a best practices guide, supplemented by an Implementation Guide. While not a standard or even a proposed standard, PDF/H provides guidelines for use with existing standards and other technologies.

The migration of medical records from paper to digital will benefit from the availability of an easy-to-adopt document encapsulation standard that meets healthcare industry requirements for portability, security and information exchange—which PDF already does, according to the healthcare experts who’ve developed PDF/H. In fact, PDF is already used in many healthcare organizations for sharing and storing device-independent medical records and imaging for those very reasons.

If PDF is fully adopted within the framework of DOSSIA and by organizations such as the Associate for Information and Image Management (AIIM), PDF software and associated PDF security measures will continue to play a key role in the standardization of medical record-keeping nationwide for years to come. And it will go a long way to enabling patients, their doctors and healthcare organizations to share life-saving data.

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