Let patients decide who sees personal information

For 30 years, a Texas psychiatrist watched her patients lose their jobs, get denied insurance or otherwise suffer because of information she was required to turn over to third parties.
ut at least that information was contained in paper files that provided some control over who saw them. Today, the advent of electronic health databases in an era of weakened federal privacy laws can be a toxic combination, warns Dr. Deborah Peel.
Fearful that the unnecessary release of private medical information could become the biggest source of discrimination, she’s become a warrior for medical privacy rights. Listening to her, you could get pretty cranked up, too.
Peel’s case centers on the 2002 HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), adopted to provide continuity of health coverage. The bill was intended, she argues, to provide a right of consent for patients before their medical information could be released into electronic networks. But it was left to the secretary of Health and Human Services to set the standards to ensure that right. She says in HHS hands, the law morphed and now has the opposite effect, because officials caved in to lobbyists for the insurance, pharmaceutical and hospital industries, among others.

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