MEDICAL PRIVACY: Most Trust Only Docs, Hospitals with Info
Americans trust their doctors and hospitals with confidential medical information, but don't trust insurers or others with the same information, according to new survey sponsored by Consumers Union and the California HealthCare Foundation. The survey of 1,000 Americans and another 1,100 Californians conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, also revealed that most Americans think computerization of medical records presents the most serious threat to privacy, with 52% of Californians saying computer-based systems make it more difficult to keep information private and 58% saying computer hackers are the biggest threat. Almost six in every 10 (56%) Californians would not give sensitive medical information to a hospital offering preventive care or to an employer considering them for a new job. The exception for most people to this reluctance was for medical research studies conducted by government or academia. Half of Californians said they are opposed to Congress' 1996 mandate requiring unique health identifiers for all Americans, compared with 38% who said they supported the system. However, many of those opposed to the unique identifiers say they would change their mind if proven safeguards for privacy were included in the system. The three policies that received the strongest support were establishing fines and punishments for violations of medical privacy, supported by 47% of both study populations, requiring permission to release medical records, supported by 44% of Americans and 49% of Californians, and requiring providers to take steps such as encryption and passwords to protect security, supported by 43% of all respondents.
Larry Hugick, senior project director for Princeton Survey Research, said this survey "shows that people are more cautious about changes in important areas of their lives such as health care." He continued, "While people are willing to accept change, they need good, reliable information to make them comfortable in these key areas." The survey found, however, that most people do not believe their medical privacy has thus far been violated. Only 20% of Californians and 18% of the general population said they had experienced a medical privacy violation. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3% (release, 1/28). Click here to view a summary of the study.
Policymakers, consumer advocates and health and business leaders met yesterday in Oakland to discuss the issues surrounding medical records privacy. The "Promoting Health/Protecting Privacy" conference, sponsored by the California HealthCare Foundation and Consumers Union, was the culmination of five regional patient privacy workshops held last November throughout the state (see CHL 11/11). "Given the complexity of the health care delivery system and the increasing use of new information technologies, the health care industry, collectively, needs to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to protect the confidentiality of personal health information," said Foundation President and CEO Dr. Mark Smith. Betsy Imholz, director of Consumers Union West Coast regional office, said, "As we look to influence the formation of sound public policy in this matter, we must be sure to facilitate the broadest possible conversation of every aspect of this issue and that every stakeholder group be represented in that dialogue." Conferees discussed what constitutes appropriate uses of health information and under what circumstances different groups -- employers, researchers, public health experts, law enforcement officials and others -- should be privy to medical records. The conference also explored privacy issues unique to certain populations such as HIV-positive people and immigrants, and how to educate the public about their rights to confidentiality (release, 1/28). Click here to check out the conference Web site.
The Future Holds...
Also released at the conference was a new report by the Institute for the Future predicting that the Internet will play an increasing role in health care in the future. "Health care has discovered the Internet and the Internet has discovered health care," said report co-author Robert Mittman. "The driving forces that are pushing the Internet into other industries will move all segments of the health care industry to adapt and adopt a new way of communicating and exchanging information online," he continued. However, Mittman noted that "[t]here is much work to be done in establishing standards for exchanging data and protecting patient privacy. It is unlikely that enough solutions will be identified within the next five years to drive widespread adoption of electronic medical records" (release, 1/28). The report, conducted for the California HealthCare Foundation, can be accessed on their Web site at www.chc f.org/press/viewpress.cfm?itemID=361.