Public Health and Personal Privacy

-This topic is discussed on Frontline.org-

Attorney Janlori Goldman who started the national Health Privacy Project in 1997 gives an optimistic outlook on patient privacy in our health care system. She says that people are afraid to get genetic testing, blood tests, or admit to health issues because they are afraid their current or future employers will get a hold of this information.  Personal privacy is a vastly growing issue here in the United States and privacy laws have only been established in the last ten years. Janlori talks about privacy protected behaviors in patients;  20% percent of people purposefully leave out information about symptoms and health problems to avoid exposure. People hide their diseases and syndromes because evidence shows that employers see this as a weakness or something that will hurt their company. The Medical Privacy Regulation limits what doctors can share about you. This law is becoming more outdated because of new technology in the health professions. The federal government receives a plethora of medical information from hospitals such as emergency room visits and new syndromes for observation and statistics. Janlori agrees that we do need research in order to improve quality of care and to discover and observe new disease outbreaks. However, the government does not need to know who has what disease or what their social security number is. The statistical information will still be useful without knowing these private facts about people.

One example of medical records being improperly exposed: A hospital employee took home an external hard-drive of medical records at a Veteran Administration Hospital in hopes of getting some work done at home. The hard drive was stolen and exposed all over the internet. 26 million veterans’ records were exposed. Another example: Terry Sargent was fired from her job because of a medical condition that was hereditary.

Janlori said doctors are losing control of their patient’s privacy because they are required to give insurance companies reports on patients in order to get paid. Many doctors will keep two different records per patient, one for their office and one for the insurance companies. More often than not, important medical information is left off of the insurance agency’s copy.

Companies are required to “Create a wall” if they insure their employees. There should be no relation between work performance and health care records of the employee. Sadly, many companies ignore this wall. Not one penalty has been issued when a claim has been made against an employer or insurance company for exposing personal records. No wonder why people resist going to the doctor and seeking medical care. Many workers would rather keep their jobs and not get appropriate care. This is a major health disparity in America and Janlori feels as though privacy laws with become more regulated and harsh. According to The Medical Privacy Regulation, we have no right to sue when we feel like our privacy has been violated. Attorneys are reluctant to take on these cases because they rarely win.

One of the only advantages of our privacy regulations is that we are allowed to obtain copies of our own medical records. Ten years ago, doctors office’s and hospitals would refuse to give a patient their own medical records. Many doctors also think that they are not allowed to share medical records with other doctors upon request due to liability risks. Many hospitals and medical offices offer a privacy release form upon patient admission. We are not required to sign these forms and many people are not aware of this.

Visit healthprivacy.org for more information on this topic.

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About Brittany Hartwell

Brittany is currently a student at Wichita State University in the Health Administration Program. This is her last year before she ventures out into the eventful healthcare world. This blog will primarily show the latest healthcare topics of our beautiful and ever-changing nation.
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