But a number of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the prospect of shared records threatens patient privacy. Plavner said the Howard project would require patients to sign a consent form before their records are shared. But federal privacy rules do not require doctors to get consent from patients to release their medical records to other health providers or to organizations for matters of payment.
Sue Belgians, president of the Institute for Health Freedom, said the new law is ambiguous and opens a loophole for doctors to share records with unlawful parties under the false pretense of obtaining payment.
"I don't think privacy advocates are trying to slow down the advancement of technology," Belgians said. "But the downside and what privacy advocates really worry about is, who is going to control the flow of information?"
One idea to ensure privacy is to give patients security codes so that they can monitor their records from home, Plavner said.
Of course, "there are abuses in every system," said Alan Goldberg, a lawyer who specializes in health care and telemedicine. The advent of the Internet and online banking and shopping have heightened privacy concerns, such as identify theft and credit card fraud.
And the prospect of shared medical records has raised even more eyebrows, Goldberg said.
"The ultimate goal," Goldberg said, "is to help people like you and me, who are patients."