To access their Student Health Service medical records, students must fill out a paper request form and then wait for the records to be mailed back or sent in PDF form. But some students are trying to streamline this process by adopting a completely electronic system instead.
SHS’s current system does not release health history information to third parties, for privacy and security reasons. Students must request their records themselves, which can take up to 30 days after SHS receives the request. Students must then forward these records to graduate schools, employers and other programs requiring health histories.
After graduation, as years pass and students move away from Philadelphia, some feel that the process is cumbersome and inefficient.
“We want to improve the process by which you request and receive your records … right now it’s an annoying process and we should be able to push a button and get our records digitally right there and then,” Nursing senior Leah Quinn said.
Quinn sits on the Student Health Advisory Board as a Undergraduate Assembly representative and has been working on expanding what students can access through the SHS PennPortal in addition to improving the medical records request process.
Currently, the SHS portal does not show allergies, appointment history and medications or other details, which can be problematic if students want to know of drug allergies or avoid duplicate tests. This is not necessarily constrained by software limitations; Harvard uses the same software system but its student health portal allows students to view their medications and appointment histories.
“We are definitely capable of including more but we have just been reluctant to add more details,” SHS Executive Director Giang Nguyen said. “We are concerned about protecting patients’ privacy but that’s not something young people see the full implications of.”
Nguyen explained that “although it’s not allowed, a lot of students share their PennKeys with their parents, which can be helpful with registration and bills, but what they don’t realize is that they can also access the SHS portal.”
On Oct. 4, 2015, the UA passed a resolution that health records must be made more accessible to students and become an important part of the checkout process during graduation.
By encouraging seniors to request medical records before graduating, students can avoid having to contact the school later. But this also pressures SHS to look for a more efficient system.
“If they don’t need to fix [the system], they’re not going to fix it. But if we get a lot more people to request their records, this creates a burden for change,” Quinn said.
Others have suggested using online solutions to transform the system. 1996 Wharton graduate Brian Korb founded Swellbox, a secure online dropbox that allows students to pull and access their medical records from various locations all in one platform. Users can link their student health portals to Swellbox and their immunization records, lab results, doctor visits and other records will automatically be imported. Users can also link to information from their doctors and hospitals back home as well as insurance records so that a through medical history is always readily available on the cloud in a free lifetime account.
Currently, Swellbox is available at Harvard, Penn, Northwestern and Columbia universities and is expanding to Stanford.
“The digital transformation is happening in health records but there is a lot of catch up that needs to be done,” Korb said. “This resonated with these schools who pride themselves in being leaders of innovation but everyone was falling short in their digital health readiness."
Korb explained that in a consumer world, “students should own their health records because it belongs to them and students should have the choice to do whatever they want with them.”
College and Wharton sophomore Stephen Cho is an ambassador for Swellbox and has been trying to increase Swellbox’s usership base at Penn by reaching out to clubs and Greek organizations as well as the medical school and MBAs.
As a representative of the University, Quinn said that “it is not the intention of my projects or Student Health to promote or use Swellbox, but the conversation definitely brought to light improvements that could be made.”
Korb echoed that this was not an attempt to get the administration to endorse this business, saying instead that “we’re not trying to get Penn to align with Swellbox. We just want to help them create an integration layer to improve the current system.”
Nguyen is hesitant about using tools like Swellbox, saying that “creating a tunnel to a third party puts a lot of trust in the tunnel.”
However, SHS is considering making more information available through the current portal but must work out back-end programming technicalities to ensure patient privacy is prioritized.
“It’s good people are interested in their health records and that they own it," Nguyen said. "It shows that they’re engaged and on the right track for their healthcare and well-being."
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