Until the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services establishes a way for people to review all of their health records, at no charge and at regular intervals, our "health credit" may suffer.
I was stunned a few years ago when insurance company underwriters rejected my application due to a serious, life-altering diagnosis incorporated into a radiology test I had once received. (They probably thought I had knowingly held back bad news.)
I never had that diagnosis or was treated for it. The hospital was wrong. Fortunately, no doctor used this incorrect information to prescribe medical treatment, but it was poised to play havoc with my credit health.
No one knows how much bad data is in his or her medical file. And we have no idea how many times bad digitized data will be sliced and diced among affiliates, partners, or other interested third parties. Our Web-provided personal information is sold, traded, and replicated faster than DNA today.
Part of the problem is that our data are dispersed among every physician, medical office, hospital, medical center, pharmacy, and testing company we have visited over our lifetimes. No one can remember them all.
At least some of that data are going into electronic records, as primary-care physicians and other practices are receiving subsidies to transform patients' medical information into digital data. How much of our medical history is transferred incorrectly (maybe a sheet from a family member's file was inadvertently scanned into yours), typed in incorrectly, or transferred from a hospital or other source that got it wrong from the get-go and we never knew?
Even without endangering patients, these medical data errors could harm a person's finances, future, and family - as I learned.
In my case, I assumed one phone call to the hospital's radiology office would correct the inaccuracy in my records and allow the insurance company to reverse its decision.
But my calls up the chain bore no fruit. I was told there was nothing they could do. I had to leave a voice mail with the chief of staff, and then followed up with a registered letter demanding the record be corrected. I cautioned the medical center that its inaccuracy had caused me harm and must be cured immediately.
Eventually, I received a call from an apologetic chief of radiology, who reviewed my file and agreed that the diagnosis entered was wrong. But, I was told, the file was locked in stone. They couldn't go back and change the diagnosis or add a disclaimer. However, they did append a note regarding the incorrect diagnosis. I have copies, and so I was able to get the insurance. Recently, when another red flag occurred with an application for insurance, providing the corrected report did the trick.
I wasn't laughing at the time, but I came up with my own version of the tag line in that hilarious credit-card commercial: "What's in your medical history?"
Richard Lavinthal, a former reporter and spokesman for federal and state prosecutors, is a consultant at PRforLAW. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.