Cloud control: Digitizing medical records? BSA says please don’t

expertlogo1Digitally storing photos, books and music means everything’s at our fingertips wherever we are.

It’s convenient, but anyone who follows the news knows it’s not exactly secure.

That’s why there’s one thing for sure that doesn’t belong in the cloud: Scout medical records.

The rule is clear: Boy Scout Annual Health and Medical Records are not to be digitized, scanned, sent by email or stored electronically by unit leaders.

For more on the subject of digitizing medical records, let’s Ask the Expert.

The original question

Here’s the email I received from John, an assistant Scoutmaster:

This is a question for your “Ask the Expert” crew. In the past I have heard of people who take unit medical forms and scan them to a USB drive to carry. We have also done this in our troop. I was at a training over the weekend and one of the Scouters was adamant that the BSA “does not allow” saving documents to electronic media. Is this really the case? If so can you explain the thought behind this?

The expert’s response

From Richard Bourlon, the BSA’s authority on health and safety:

Thanks for the question. First, please click here to review the FAQs at our one-stop place for all things related to medical records.

Under the “Have Questions? Get Answers Here” button you’ll find this:

Q. Can I keep a record of my Annual Health and Medical Record somewhere at my council’s office or online?

A. No. Please don’t digitizeDistricts and councils are discouraged from keeping any medical records, whether digital or paper, unless required by local or state ordinances. However, the electronic version of the Annual Health and Medical Record is intended to be filled out and saved by individual Scouts and Scouters. The electronic version of the Annual Health and Medical Record should not be transmitted via email or stored electronically by units, districts or councils. Units are encouraged to keep paper copies of their participants’ Annual Health and Medical Records in a confidential medical file for quick access in an emergency and to be prepared for all adventures.

There’s also this:

Q. What do leaders do with the Annual Health and Medical Records they collect?

A. In all cases, the information gathered is for use in conducting a safe Scouting program. Information gathered in the AHMR must be maintained and shared in a confidential and discreet manner. Some conditions may require communication to ensure the safety of participants. This information should only be shared on a “need-to-know” basis.

Following are some of the best practices for using and storing the records:

  • The Annual Health and Medical Record is secured to maintain the confidentiality of the information, yet at the same time, the forms should be accessible by adult leaders in an emergency. The following guidance will assist leaders in achieving this goal:
  • Leaders are encouraged to maintain the original AHMR forms in a safe location in a binder or file that protects the documents entrusted to the unit leader.
  • The AHMR should be taken on all activities.
  • Designate a leader to keep the files containing the AHMR up to date.  This may include reminding participants to update the AHMR annually or as needed.
  • Designate a leader as the point of contact with event or camp health officers.  If needed, the leader should arrange to have the AHMR returned to him or her at the end of the event, if allowed by the state.
  • The unit leader (or his or her designee) is responsible for destroying or returning to the participant (or parent and/or guardian) the AHMR documents when the participant leaves the unit or when the documents become outdated.
  • Records are NOT to be digitized, scanned, sent by email, or stored electronically by unit leaders.
  • To streamline a summer or winter camp check-in, records of all participants are reviewed to make sure they are up to date, completed, and signed before leaving for camp. Be sure to check with the camp for any additional information that may be needed. For example, specific immunization records may be required in some states.

Finally, you asked for the reason behind this rule. We have evaluated the risks associated with digitizing and have made a conscious effort not to do it. What you may think seems like such a good idea has many implications on privacy, data transmission, loss, etc., that we are not ready to address. So as an organization have chosen to avoid the risk. Please don’t digitize.

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About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.