Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Medical Information Privacy Concerns May Require Legislative Action

Medical Information Privacy Concerns May Require Legislative Action.
Copyright 2005 Terry McDermott

Medical information is among the most sensitive and personal information that can be collected and shared. It has always been accepted that privacy of personal medical data is central to the doctor-patient relationship. But, surprisingly, there is no comprehensive federal medical information privacy law.

Records containing medical information are less protected than credit reports or video rental records. There is a patchwork of state health privacy laws. Some laws cover specific individuals or organizations or specific medical conditions. But state laws vary widely and few address medical information privacy concerns in a comprehensive fashion.

For a variety of reasons a new sense of urgency exists for privacy rules governing the use of personal medical conditions information. Some are as follows:

- Rise in managed care -
- New information and communications technology
- Concerns raised by mapping of the human genome
- Increased demand for health data
- Commercial use of health data

Increased access to medical information can result in an increased risk of misuse. Stricter privacy guidelines can prevent access by those who are not bound by ethical or legal standards or who are motivated strictly by profit or curiosity.

Some patients adopt privacy protecting behavior like paying out-of-pocket or doctor hopping. Others may be reluctant to give accurate or complete medical information. In the worst-case scenario, people will avoid care altogether. As a result, a patient puts him/herself at risk because of undetected or untreated conditions. In addition, without full patient participation up-front, the medical data collected will be unreliable for users elsewhere in the system. Ultimately, health care initiatives that depend on complete and accurate information may be undermined.

Protecting medical conditions information privacy ensures access to care and improves the quality of care for individuals and their communities.

About the Author:

J. Terrence McDermott is administrator and webmaster for Home Medical Suppies Central at http://www.medical-supplies-4u.net - a site featuring medical supplies and equipment and resources for home caregivers. He can be reached at termcder@gmail.com

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