MEDICAL PRIVACY: Patient Records Are Widely Distributed
Medical records now beat out all other third-party maintained records as the most widely circulated, USA Today reports. Part of the problem comes from the "growing use of computerized medical records," while managed care companies have begun requesting "much more information than they need to make coverage decisions." According to Paul Appelbaum, vice president of the American Psychiatric Association, such information could include "comments about suicide attempts, extramarital affairs, job-related problems and drug or alcohol abuse." Employers, in turn, concerned about rising premiums can get medical information from insurers and other custodians of records. The process generally starts when patients visit a doctor or fill a prescription and then claims are filed with insurers and third-party bill collectors. Sometimes that information is given to drug companies or marketers who can "mine" the data to find patients with specific health problems. Two drug store chains allegedly use patient information for marketing purposes: Rite Aid reminds patients who take medication for chronic conditions to refill prescriptions, while CVS is being sued by patients in Massachusetts who claim the drug store chain gave pharmaceutical companies information that allowed them to be targeted for direct-mail advertising. Janlori Goldman of the Health Privacy Project at Georgetown University said, "Right now, once information leaves a doctor's office, there are no federal regulations that protect the privacy of information." That could change, as HHS is reviewing the first federal standards that would guard electronic medical records by reducing employer access, allowing patients to get copies of their own records and requiring permission from patients in certain circumstances to release information. The standards do not cover paper records, nor do they mandate that consent is necessary to release information related to treatment, payment or health care operations (Appleby, 3/23).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.