The Virginia Department of Heath launched a statewide Advance Health Care Directive Registry on Wednesday, Dec. 7, through a public-private partnership to allow its residents to upload and store medical documents securely online. In the event that registered users are unable to make their own medical decisions, the stored documents can assist with determining a course of action.

“You’re the driver, you have complete control over who sees this information and how it’s used,” said Virginia Health Commissioner Karen Remley.

Documents — including medical power of attorney, do-not-resuscitate forms, legal wills, organ donor information and other medical requests — can be uploaded into the password-protected, centralized repository, according to the Virginia Department of Heath.

Residents receive a PIN after creating an account on the registry’s website. Remley said the user can share the PIN with anyone who he or she would like to grant access to the medical documents, such as family members or physicians. In the event that the account holder is incapacitated or unable to make his or her own medical decisions, those who have the PIN can access the medical documents and help honor the account holder’s health-care wishes.

“This allows people the opportunity to share their information, to think about these issues long ahead of time, and have a way to share that with people they care about and have it be easily accessible,” Remley said.

Residents who develop an account on the registry are required to create a password, however, account holders should only provide the PIN to whom they wish to have access, Remley said. While physicians may be given a registered user’s PIN, they and other health-care professionals do not have automatic access to a user’s registry account.

Debbie Secor, the state Health Department’s CIO, said registry users with existing paper-based medical documents that contain signatures must be scanned and uploaded to the registry in a secured PDF with the legal signature attached to it. The registry itself does not validate signatures, so any legal documents containing signatures must be scanned and uploaded to maintain their validity.

Users’ medical information may change over time, so they have the option to update any of the medical information or documents in their registry account, Remley said. Documents that have been submitted to the account but are not the most current version will be archived in the Advance Health Care Directive Registry.

The registry, developed in partnership with Michigan-based health-care technology company Unival Inc. and Microsoft, adheres to all requirements of the Virginia State Bar, according to the state’s Health Department. Eleven other states including Arizona and Mississippi have similar electronic registries.

To keep the documents secure, “information provided to the Virginia Advance Health Care Directive Registry is password-protected, encrypted and protected by means of a firewall,” according to a state document. Unival, which hosts the website, is in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

In 2014, Virginia will launch a statewide health information exchange (HIE) that residents can opt in to, and once available, the registry will be interoperable with the HIE, according to the Health Department. The HIE will provide electronic access to residents’ medical records for health-care providers nationwide.

“There will be the ability for this registry along with other registries the state has — immunization registry, newborn health screening registry — to interface and share that information,” Remley said.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.