Editorial Calls for Legislation To Address Privacy Issues Related to Medical Records Sent Abroad
California residents "enjoy some of the nation's strongest privacy protections on their medical and financial records," but enforcement of those protections "becomes much dicier -- if not impossible -- when U.S. companies ship sensitive personal data overseas for processing," a San Francisco Chronicle editorial states (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/31). As part of an ongoing series, the Chronicle on Sunday published a special report on the threat to individual privacy when companies send medical and financial records abroad. The article highlighted the case of Lubna Baloch, a woman in Pakistan who performed medical transcription for the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center through a subcontractor. Last October, Baloch sent an e-mail to UCSF that threatened to post voice files and patient records from the UCSF Parnassus and Mt. Zion campuses on the Internet unless she received payments allegedly owed her. Baloch later agreed not to post the information. According to the Chronicle report, medical transcription companies subcontract as much as half of their work abroad, and hospitals often hire such companies to transcribe dictated physician notes into written form, practices that could lead to identity theft, fraud and other criminal activities (California Healthline, 3/29). The editorial states that California lawmakers "cannot afford to wait for Congress to take action" on the problem and must "act quickly" to pass legislation that would help address the issue. According to the editorial, one bill (SB 1492), sponsored by Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Garden Grove), would mandate that companies could not send information abroad that is "private, confidential, privileged or essential to homeland security," and a second bill (SB 1451), sponsored by Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont), would require companies to inform customers when they send medical and financial information abroad. The editorial concludes that the "chilling near-miss involving UCSF has given lawmakers all the warning they need" (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/31).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.