NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Then There's The Medical Records Privacy Issue

January 6, 2000

In the Information Age, patients are finding it increasingly difficult to keep their medical records private -- and there is a multitude of horror stories to prove it. People whose medical secrets have entered the public domain have been publicly humiliated and even lost their jobs, according to reports.

  • Fifty-six percent of adults say there is no good way to keep sensitive records secret -- and 15 percent say they have done something extraordinary to keep their secrets.
  • Sixty percent trust doctors, hospitals and other health professionals to safeguard their records from prying eyes -- while only 35 percent trust their health plans and 33 percent trust Medicare and similar government programs, according to Princeton Survey Research Associates.
  • In October, President Clinton proposed to grant patients more rights to see, correct and request who has seen their records while permitting health-care providers to share information -- without their consent -- to fulfill treatment, payment, public health and necessary business uses.
  • Critics say that misses the point completely -- since it doesn't address the fundamental privacy issue in any meaningful way.

The Clinton administration's efforts to put into effect a national medical ID system only compounds the problem, critics say.

Persons who are deeply concerned about their privacy have been known to seek treatment outside their employer's health plan -- and pay for the costs out-of-pocket. Fearing an invasion of their privacy, others simply avoid seeking medical services at all.

Source: Daniel J. Murphy, "Can You Keep a Medical Secret?" Investor's Business Daily, January 6, 2000.


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