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Why it’s a nightmare for anyone to access their medical record, even would-be presidents

In the wake of a pneumonia diagnosis, pundits have heightened their calls for Hillary Clinton to release her full medical record. Donald Trump, too. 

It’s totally fair to ask for more transparency from candidates, whether it’s their health records or tax returns. But those who know a thing or two about health information technology have made the case that such a request is not as simple as it sounds. As Margot Sanger-Katz at the New York Times points out, it’s a logistical nightmare for anyone in their sixties who has seen myriad of doctors over the years to gather up all their records: 

The federal government has invested billions in helping to digitize medical records, but the process is still in its infancy, with data that is often nonstandard and hard to transfer between systems.

To be clear, Clinton and Trump have junior staffers who can call up hospitals and doctors to make these requests. But they will likely face delays, lost documents, fines, and a host of medical errors.

I’ve written a fair bit about this topic over the years, and have come across many cases where hospitals and clinics will make it very difficult for patients to access their records. As Bob Kocher, an investor and one of the authors of the Affordable Care Act, once told me: “These fee-for-service hospitals are fighting tooth and nail to retain patients—and the vendors are responding to these needs. They [some hospitals] have not wanted features that make it easier to share information.”CF