Privacy Issues Raised As Health Records Go Online

Privacy groups are sounding alarms as the nation’s largest insurance companies finalize plans to allow millions more customers to post their health records on the Internet. Insurers such as Hartford-based Aetna Inc. say Web-based tools help patients and physicians keep track of medical information while potentially holding down spiraling medical costs.

About 100 million insurance customers in the U.S. have access to Web-based tools, but companies don’t have an estimate of how widely they are used. Insurers hope to at least double the technology’s reach by the end of next year.

Aetna chief executive Ronald Williams says the change is as revolutionary to health care as the introduction of the ATM card was to banking in the 1980s.

But privacy advocates say there’s no guarantee that the records will be safe from hackers. Some worry that patients may refuse to disclose some illnesses to their doctors to keep documents out of databases.

{Too often we raise the issue of privacy and the marketplace responds with information about security.  While the concepts of security and privacy are interdependent, security safeguards don’t ensure privacy.  In fact, the most rampant abuse of our personal data is not due to security breaches but the free reign insurers, data miners and other covered entities are allowed by gutted HIPAA regulations.  No one selling PHRs is assuring us that our privacy will be protected because it won’t; PHRs are designed to be a treasure trove of information for all, not just doctors in need of life saving information.  Our information is being used for marketing, to deny insurance coverage, employment and promotions, and in some cases to destroy reputations.  This practice will explode as we push forward with electronic health records.  When people know the doctor-patient privilege is no longer respected, they will stop being honest or seeing their doctor altogether resulting in actual harm, worse outcomes and higher costs treating preventable conditions. Getting consumers more involved in their healthcare is an excellent idea; we can only reach that goal by ensuring consumers have control over their information and know who is accessing it rather than blindly handing it over. ~ Dr. Deborah Peel, Patient Privacy Rights}

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