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Credit: Joy Lee

Student Health Service has updated its online system to facilitate easier transfer of student health records.

Previously, students or alumni who wanted to transfer their medical records to a third party — like a future medical provider — had to obtain a print copy of the records, to be scanned or mailed. Now, individuals can ask for PDF versions of their records to be emailed to them or emailed to third parties.

The change stemmed in part from student advocacy and in part from new federal guidelines. The new guidelines, which were released last year, allow health records to be transferred via email as long as the patient acknowledges in the form that they are aware that email is not entirely secure.

Students, meanwhile, had been advocating for an easier way to obtain medical records. College senior Akansha Jain, a member of the Student Health Advisory Board, said the advocacy began when a student suggested in a meeting that there should be an easier way to access health records.

“It started out as a simple conversation on a topic that a student brought up at one of our meetings,” Jain said. “And from that conversation, it transformed to a point where Student Health has changed the process.”

That advocacy happened alongside the change in federal guidelines allowing for health information to be sent by email.

“I think things have come together really nicely in that the guidance happened roughly the same time that the students were really asking for more, and we knew that we could provide more, and so that’s really what happened,” Chief Privacy Officer for Penn Medicine and Senior Advisor for Privacy Lauren Steinfeld said.

The records request form is on the SHS website, and students have already begun to request access to their records. For many students, their college years are the first time they have had to manage their own healthcare, and the change is designed to make that easier.

“I think this a helpful step where it gives you some ownership, but is still easy enough to do as you make that transition,” College junior Trevor Glenn said, who is another member of the Student Health Advisory Board.

Increased access to health records has been a focus of student advocacy for several months. One company, Swellbox, provides an easy way for students to compile all their medical records.

Previously, SHS had raised concerns about Swellbox, since the company had originally asked students to provide their PennKeys to in order to allow access to records — a major online security violation. 

However, Penn recently reached out to Swellbox, and the company will no longer ask students to provide their PennKeys. Swellbox has also deleted the PennKey information students provided before the change. 

Instead, students can simply obtain their records directly from SHS and transfer them to Swellbox.

"Swellbox has huge potential to be helpful in collaborating with Penn on reaching the greatest digital health record solution possible for students," College and Wharton junior Stephen Cho, a Swellbox ambassador, wrote in an emailed statement. 

Aside from the new email system, administrators said SHS is also working on a way to provide students with a more comprehensive health record on the website itself.

Currently, when students log into their student health portal, they can only access a limited amount of information, including a list of immunizations. Administrators said SHS wants to allow students to view additional information, such as a history of visits, a list of active medications or a list of medical problems.

To do that, SHS plans to implement two-factor authentication — a login process that’s more secure than a simple username and password because it pairs knowledge of some key with a device, such as a phone.

For example, ATMs use two-factor authentication, requiring knowledge of a PIN as well as a physical card.

Once the two-step verification is in place, students will be able to log into the SHS portal and view a more comprehensive compilation of their health information.

“I see all of this as an opportunity for students to really become the best patients that they can be, so that they can be healthy for their entire lives,” said Giang Nguyen, the executive director of SHS. “This is where you set up your patterns of health care usage and health care interactions, so we want people to start that process in the right way, in a safe way, in an engaged manner — and that’s what we’re working for here.”