MEDICAL PRIVACY: Could Endanger Patients’ Health
While conceding that "[t]hreats to our medical privacy are proliferating as technology speeds the flow of information," Dr. Thomas Lee, medical director of Partners Community HealthCare Inc., writes in a Newsweek op-ed: "[I]nformation is the lifeblood of good health care. In short, privacy can be hazardous to your health." He cites the increased chance of dangerous drug interactions as an example of the risk we take by depriving doctors of knowledge in the name of privacy. Additionally, he notes that state law may bar the release of information on a patient seeking emergency care, "forcing the ER physician to fly half blind," and hindering proper care of a mental patient or one who is HIV-positive. Lee also stresses the benefits of allowing health plans to maintain access to medical records, noting that disease management software aids HMOs in determining whether "patients with a chronic condition, such as asthma or hypertension, are filling their prescriptions and showing up for appointments." As an example, he notes the dilemma facing one HMO of whether to send flu shot reminders to HIV-positive enrollees. "The program would almost surely save lives, but it would just as surely draw criticism as a breach of confidentiality." Despite patients' fears of the availability of electronic records, Lee writes that passwords and "smart cards" permit access to only physicians directly involved with the patient. He concludes: "These safeguards cost money and time, and doctors will grumble about the extra keystrokes. But with a little creativity and common sense, we'll find a way to protect privacy while ensuring that doctors have the information they need to take good care of people" (8/16 issue).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.