Private Medical Records?

August 25, 1999

People say that it’s nobody’s business if they have high blood pressure, take Prozac, or have had a sexually transmitted disease. Unfortunately, too many people make it their business to find out.

More and more organizations are checking your records to find out if you have a recurring disease, have had psychological counseling, or just to find out what pharmaceutical drugs you are taking. This list includes insurers, health maintenance organizations, drug manufacturers, researchers, and marketers.

Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala agrees that "Every day our private health information is being shared." In fact, the American Health Information Management Association confirms that 17 outside organizations typically have access to a person’s hospital records. One association’s publication explains that some 150 persons (from nurses to X-ray technicians to billing clerks) have ready access to patient records.

The result? Nearly anyone can access your records. For example, executives at more than a third of the Fortune 500 companies scan their employees’ medical records before making hiring, firing, and promotion decisions. Life insurers use data on clients’ genetic backgrounds to drop coverage and reject applicants. Internet information brokers sell individuals’ complete medical file to any interested person with a computer and cash, including lawyers, detectives, political and business foes.

Back in 1996, Congress responded to this invasion of privacy by stipulating that unless Congress passed a law governing medical disclosure by August 21 of this year, the secretary of health and human services must issue rules by February 21, 2000. The congressional logjam that resulted now appears to put the ball in the secretary’s court.

Patient privacy is becoming a big issue as we move into the 21st century. If Congress doesn’t protect our privacy, it’s time for the federal bureaucracy to do so.

I’m Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that’s my opinion.

© 1999 Probe Ministries International